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A Volunteer Gets the Recognition He Deserves

Longtime Experience Corps tutor Calvin Leonard is always thinking about what he can do to help his students.


spinner image Calvin Leonard EC Volunteer

Calvin Leonard couldn’t quite place the young woman he saw at the post office in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but she recognized him right away.

“Hey, Mr. Leonard, how you doing?” she asked. Her name was Queen, and she was one of the many people Calvin has inspired over more than two decades as a volunteer tutor with AARP Foundation Experience Corps. A community-based program, Experience Corps pairs older adults with young students who are struggling to read at grade level and helps them become better readers.

“She told me she was going to Cuyahoga Community College — the same school I went to!” Calvin recalls. “I was so glad to hear that.”

Calvin has tutored with Experience Corps, hosted by Greater Cleveland Volunteers, for the last 20 years, following a decades-long career in manufacturing. When he retired in 2000, he started looking for ways to give back to his community in the Cleveland suburbs, and Experience Corps was the perfect fit. “It’s a big time commitment,” he says, “but it’s worth it. You'll be working with a child, and all of a sudden you can see in their face that they got it. It just makes you feel good.”

“I always say K-3 is for learning to read, and after that, it’s reading to learn,” he adds. “If you can’t read, you’re in big trouble.”

It's not just the children that keep Calvin and more than 1,100 other Experience Corps volunteers coming back year after year. The program also provides its participants with valuable social connections. “You get to spend time with the other tutors and the teachers,” says Calvin. “We have get-togethers and potlucks at the school. We text each other on holidays or when someone is sick.”

He hopes more people will volunteer with Experience Corps, even if the idea seems intimidating at first. The program is designed to ensure that volunteers are well-prepared and supported throughout the school year. “There are lots of trainings and support materials,” Calvin explains. “We have team meetings once a month to talk about what's working and come up with new ideas and ways to improve. There are great people running it; you just have to show up and be willing.”

Help Kids Become Great Readers

Helping someone learn to read is an amazing feeling. Experience Corps makes it easy to start giving back, with training and ongoing support when you’re in the classroom. 

  

 

His home office is decorated with cards and plaques from schools he’s worked in during his time with Experience Corps. When he had an unexpected surgery at the end of the 2022­-23 school year, Calvin had to miss the last day of tutoring Tyler, one of his favorite students. He left her a certificate of completion and books to read for the summer.

“When I got back to the school, she had left me a card!” Calvin says happily. He reads, “Dear Mr. Leonard, thank you for all you did for me this year. I wish that you could stay longer, Mr. Leonard. I hope that you have an amazing summer.”

Tyler’s card is up there on his office wall, too. And this year, Calvin has a new medallion to hang. At the 2023 AARP Foundation Experience Corps National Meeting in Washington, D.C., he received the President’s Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award from leaders of AARP Foundation, AmeriCorps, and Points of Light for contributing more than 4,400 hours of service over 20 years.

Despite the accolades, Calvin is modest. “My church made a big deal, and my family was really excited,” he says. “I don't always talk about it because I don't want to seem like I'm bragging, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime recognition. I’m honored.”

The award, Tyler's card, and the chance meeting with former student Queen are testaments to the long-lasting difference Experience Corps volunteers can make in their communities.

"I sit at home thinking about what I can do to help this child,” Calvin says. “You develop this bond, this relationship. It becomes part of you and that's the good thing. It's made me a better person.”

Learn more about AARP Foundation Experience Corps and how to become a volunteer.

Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope, and about the volunteers who give so much of themselves to help others. 

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Help Kids Become Great Readers

Helping someone learn to read is an amazing feeling. Experience Corps makes it easy to start giving back, with training and ongoing support when you’re in the classroom.