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.”