Charlene Connors, Experience Corps volunteer member
I walked quietly into the special education classroom, not knowing what to expect. I counted quickly — five boys, one girl. The teacher asked me to work with Alice, the obviously angry child who protested immediately. No, she did not want help; no, she did not want me to sit next to her; and no, she would not read with me.
I learned quickly I couldn't even touch Alice's hand or shoulder, since she would jump away and cringe. We started with my sitting next to her, quietly encouraging her, trying to keep her on task in the classroom. She knew most of her alphabet but hadn't yet made the connection between alphabet sounds and words. We took small steps, and I set little goals.
After several weeks, Alice trusted me enough to sit with me right outside the classroom door. She "helped" me read, as I pointed to the easy words I knew she would know. Soon we were going to the library, picking out books and reading together. Alice started to sound out more words.
One day, Alice wanted to read in the library balcony. I was very pleased but, because of a health problem, going up the steps was difficult for me. I explained we would have to go very slowly. Quickly, Alice grabbed my hand and assured me she could help. And so we climbed slowly, hand in hand, up the library steps.
By the end of the year, Alice didn't need me to pick out books or point out words. She was very excited about reading, eagerly sounding out any words she didn't know, even bringing in books she wanted us to read.
By the end of the year, I no longer needed Alice's help to climb the stairs, but I never told her. We all need a helping hand at some point in our lives.
They All Want to Be Smart
Belinda D. Cousin, Experience Corps volunteer member
Becoming a tutor has been a challenging, life-altering experience. While in training, I listened over and over as different people discussed their own experiences in tutoring. Each person was touched in some way, but still I didn't fully understand. It's something you have to experience first-hand to appreciate.
My children come from many different family lifestyles, but they all have one common goal. They all want to be "smart." This program builds confidence where there is insecurity and courage where there is fear.
Experience Corps changes the lives of the tutors as well as the lives of children. I feel needed in a way totally different from my family's needs. These children know they can depend on me. They can tell me anything and, believe me, they do. I have developed into a better person because of these children.
I've learned to be patient, because with patience comes understanding. I've learned to be more understanding because with understanding comes compassion. With patience, understanding and compassion comes success.