Third grade is a critical year in a child’s education: Around 16 percent of children who are not reading proficiently by then don’t graduate from high school on schedule, studies have shown.
That’s where AARP Foundation Experience Corps is making a difference. This community-based program trains volunteers 50 and older to tutor kids who are behind in their reading skills. More than a thousand trained volunteers delivered 107,825 hours of service in 2021–’22.
Some of their experiences follow.
Calvin Leonard, 75, Cleveland, Ohio Retired production planning manager
Leonard has been volunteering for 20 years. “If you can’t read, you’re lost,” he says. He once ran into a former student in the post office. She told him she was in community college, hugged him and thanked him. “It’s helped me to become a better person,” he notes.
Geeta Sethi, 61, Buffalo, New York Retired medical research administrator
Sethi says her mission is “to make kids realize how important it is to have this tool in your hand, this thing that nobody can take away from you.” And she loves becoming a trusted friend to the children she has tutored. “If I’ve gone away on a vacation, they say, ‘We missed you.’ ”
Peggy DiCori, 73, Boston, Massachusetts Retired social services manager
Young children and older adults can learn from each other, DiCori points out. “When you’re with a younger person, they’re teaching you about the real world now,” she says. “I have the wisdom of many years of living, and they have the joy of learning new things.”
David Jurin, 76, Sacramento, California Retired from the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance
When classes went online during the pandemic, one enthusiastic student never wavered, Jurin recalls. “He sent me this picture of himself holding up one of the books we read, and wrote on the back, ‘Thank you for helping me, I’m a better reader now.’ That makes you feel good, you know?”
Vivian Foster, 70, Portland, Oregon Retired teacher and volunteer manager
Witnessing a student’s progress and the aha moments is what keeps Foster returning to the program. “They really do want that attention, and they need it now more than ever — to have somebody in their corner,” she says. “They make you feel like you’re a little shining light in their life.”
Earlean Lewis, 68, Macon, Georgia Retired accounts payable technician
Lewis and her sister had big plans for their retirement. But then her sister died. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Too many hours in the day,” she observes. A friend suggested she explore volunteering, and before long she was hooked. “When you know that you’ve gotten through to them, when that little light bulb goes off, that gives you such a good feeling.”
For information about volunteering for AARP Foundation Experience Corps, visit aarpfoundation.org/ec-volunteer.