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Finding Your Purpose in Helping Others to Learn

Experience Corps volunteers fill the reading gap

A woman is teaching a child in a class

Matt Roth

Learning to read well by third grade has been identified as a predictor of high school graduation and career success. Yet 65 percent of American children enter fourth grade unable to read proficiently, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Two thousand age-50-plus corps volunteers will again join the millions of youngsters heading back to the classroom this fall. The older adults are trained to help children in kindergarten through third grade conquer their struggles with reading. Experience Corps serves more than 30,000 students every year in high-need elementary schools. Volunteers contribute from six to 15 hours a week in the classroom throughout the school year.

“I like to see that light bulb go on in children’s faces once they discover they can read and this whole world opens up,” says Joyce Collie, 82, a Washington, D.C., volunteer. Experience Corps has benefited not only the students but the volunteers; they say it helps them stay mentally and physically active. And the gains the children make in critical literacy skills are up to 60 percent greater than the gains of students not served by the program, a study from Washington University in St. Louis shows. To learn more, visit