All school volunteers bring something special to kids, but senior citizens can provide a level of comfort and caring that’s hard to beat. Senior Corps, an independent federal organization, offers grants through its Foster Grandparent program to local nonprofits so seniors can provide help in school classrooms. One such volunteer is John Bowden, a St. Cloud, Minn., resident and former educator who spends several hours a week helping kids boost basic skills.
What can a senior volunteer bring to the classroom that’s different or unique?
We bring life experiences to the table. A senior brings the wisdom of a working life, their years of experiences. I think what I have found in working with children is you can give that missing link if they don’t have a grandparent in their life.
You also set up a program where students read to residents in a senior living complex. How do the kids and seniors benefit?
When you are in a retirement center, you are limited in what you can do and your life has restrictions sometimes. Hearing a child read and giving the child encouragement gives [residents] a feeling that they are making a difference in a child’s life. For a child, it’s so important to have someone take an interest in what he is reading. To be on the receiving end of appreciation and nice comments, well, it is something children crave. It doesn’t take a heck of a lot to make them feel good.
Can you tell us what you personally get out of this program?
What I get out of working with children is they give you so much pleasure. It gives you a sense of pride to see a child grow. If you take an interest, they respond. I helped one boy bring up his reading level. But first, we connected because he loved Legos and I have an interest in Legos. Once you establish a relationship, there’s a moment of trust and you can make their lives so much more positive.