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These Cougars are grand

The Grand Cougars chuckled when they picked their name.

They’re not that kind of “cougar” club, said President Sandra Martin. They’re not all single and ready to mingle. That’s a different club altogether. These women — and men — are grand, as in grandparents, of Brookhaven Academy students.

“We laughed about it when we picked that name.”

The club formed three years ago to support the private school and to encourage students’ academic, spiritual, social and personal growth through their involvement in the childrens’ lives.

“They are so fun and very active,” said Brian Emory, director of development for BA. “I see some of the members just about every day of the school year. They do everything from helping kindergartners open their lunches — like the little microwave cups that those kids can’t open — to fundraising projects.”

Emory said the Grand Cougars raised money to help finance the school’s new bus and also a portable STEM learning lab for K3 through sixth grade.

“I started the club three years ago and they have ran with it,” he said. 

Becky Vauhn-Furlow was the president for the first two years. Martin took over those duties at a recent meeting.

Emory said he wanted to create a club that would give grandparents of BA students an avenue to become more involved in school activities.

“All grandparents jump at the chance to be involved in their grandchildren’s education in any way,” he said.

The Grand Cougars meet on the second Monday of each moth at noon. They take May and June off to recharge.

They didn’t want to just get together on Grandparents Day, he said.

Emory rarely goes a day during the school year without seeing a Grand Cougar on campus.

They formed a mission statement and created an agenda.

The club includes 55 active members who pay a small fee to join. It’s $15 for a single member or $25 for a couple.

That helps fund some of their projects, Martin said.

While they’re not a fundraising club, they have helped in that way as well, selling boston butts to put money toward a $95,000 bus for field trips and athletic travel.

“That was a significant gift for it,” he said.

He said the club has been more successful than he imagined and he’s seeing benefits for both sides — the Grand Cougars and the students.

“They just really want to be there and this is a great avenue,” he said.

Martin is a welcome addition on campus, he said.

“She’s the most popular lady in the cafeteria when she brings the cookies and the brownies,” he said.

Martin, 70, has three little ones at BA — a ninth grader, a sixth grader and a second grader.

She explained the reason the Grand Cougar Club is so popular.

“This day and age most parents have to work,” she said. “We just wanted to be more than just a taxi driver. We wanted to be hands on. We wanted to be an asset to the school and make our grandkids aware that we are there and we are involved.”

She said what she likes about the grandparents’ club is that it’s not just grandparents.

“It’s aunts, uncles and friends, and anybody who is interested in being a mentor and help,” she said.

Club members work in the concession stand in the elementary, read to kindergartners and take turns working in the cafeteria to help the elementary students.

“They help with the kindergartners and open their drinks, to give the teachers time to eat and breathe,” she said.

They also watch over the athletes, especially when it’s hot.

“We show up with popsicles or drinks or whatever,” she said. “We just want to be involved in our grandchildren’s lives. I believe that’s so important in this day and time.”

Martin has three grandchildren at BA, but sometimes it feels like hundreds.

“’Hey Nana!’ they yell. They call me that and they wave,” she said.

She gets her share of hugs, too. She encourages them, just like they were their own. She tells them they’re doing a good job or compliments them on a performance.

The club also encourages the staff. One of the members volunteers to be the encouragement chairman and send every teacher and employee “from the janitor to the principal” a birthday card. She pays for the cards and the postage herself. She won’t let the club fund it.

Martin encourages other schools to form their own club for grandparents.

“We have a lot of fun,” she said. “We don’t consider ourselves special but it means as much to us as it does to them, or maybe more.”