As I approached becoming an empty nester 18 years ago, I began working on an MBA in Nonprofit Management while managing a Creative Kidstuff toy store. While it’s a great company with a strong mission, I knew that retail sales was not the best match for me. I celebrated my graduation in 1999 by taking my two daughters on a trip to Italy. It was on that trip that I decided to quit my job immediately and spend the summer job searching in nonprofit organizations.
I was hired by Catholic Charities for two years and then in 2002 became the only staff person for Experience Corps at Volunteers of America of Minnesota. My years of volunteering in my children’s schools and my managerial skills came together in a very satisfying way to bring older adults into urban schools as volunteers to help children in K-3 rd grades improve their reading skills. Over the next ten years, Experience Corps expanded to more cities around the country and the national office worked hard to establish standards of best practice in tutoring.
In 2009 our local program received one of the first grants offered by United Way of the Twin Cities to focus on reading by third grade, and we were able to hire two more staff and expand services to ten schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Fourth Grade is widely recognized as a critical benchmark because after “learning to read” in grades K-3, children need to “read to learn” starting in fourth grade. Reading below grade level after fourth grade is strongly linked to drop out rates and entry into the criminal justice system.
The people who are attracted to tutoring children are truly wonderful, caring individuals with a strong passion to make a difference in their community. Even though Experience Corps offers small stipends to people who volunteer as tutors for 10 or 15 hours/week, this small amount of money is dwarfed by the rewards they describe from working with children and seeing their eyes light up as they acquire a new skill. Though I am not a volunteer tutor, I get great satisfaction from hearing their stories about students overcoming barriers to learning and becoming successful readers.
In September of 2011, the national Experience Corps program announced a merger with AARP, hence a new name: AARP Experience Corps. The intention is to expand the program all over the country with an exponential increase in the number of volunteers and students being served. It’s a very exciting prospect for the program to significantly increase the impact on literacy nationwide. The first big expansion will begin in the fall of 2013 in Chicago. Stay tuned!
While there have been great personal rewards in helping Experience Corps grow locally and in working with many great volunteers, I have decided to join the ranks of the retired on April 1 of this year. I have a lengthy bucket list of things to do and places to go in the next few years, but I will always follow the latest developments in AARP Experience Corps. Perhaps one day I will want to tutor as well!
I hope that many people reading about this program will consider investigating becoming a tutor by calling the office in May or June to find out the schedule for the summer information sessions. Those who prefer to volunteer for less than 10 hours/week are also welcomed into the program and receive the same training and support. ( www.aarp.org/experiencecorps)
Janet Triplett is a member of AARP Minnesota's Senior Volunteer Leadership Team.