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Retirees Bolster Kids' Reading Skills

Experience Corps pairs volunteer tutors with elementary school students who need extra help

Volunteers need a high school or equivalency degree, must be fluent in English and undergo background checks.

They come from backgrounds as diverse as real estate and cosmetology, said Paul Olsen, director of the Bay Area Experience Corps. Volunteers serve in 26 schools in San Francisco, San Rafael and Oakland.

The program welcomes newcomers and provides training.

"The only experience needed is caring about the kids," Olsen said. A side benefit is giving children exposure to successful adults with rich life experiences.

Principal Jennifer Steiner said 80 percent of Monroe students are from Latino or Asian families where English is the second language.

Tutors develop relationships with the kids and often move grade to grade with students they've been helping, she said.

More than a tutor

Brundage, who signed on three years ago, called it a win-win.

He recalled a boy from a shaky home life. "I was the only one who showed up for his kindergarten graduation," Brundage said. "None of his family was there."

Harger said another boy whose dad had died struggled with reading and shuffled quietly and sadly through school. She teamed him with Brundage.

At the end of third grade, when the boy seemed more lighthearted and held his head high for the first time, Harger couldn't help thinking that maybe the Experience Corps relationship had something to do with the spring in his step.

Quaintance said AARP wants to expand Experience Corps to more communities across the country in the next five years and "go deeper" in some existing locations.

To inquire about volunteering in the Bay Area, call 415-759-4223 or email

You may also like: Experience Corps makes a difference. »

Rita Beamish is a writer living in San Mateo, Calif.

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