Helping oversome obstacles

Published on Thu, Mar 8, 2001
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Helping oversome obstacles

by Soren Velice

Blaine elementary and primary schools are trying to get their hands on some of your free time.

“The object is to get people from the community in to read with the children on a weekly basis,” primary school principal Nancy Bakarich said. “Kids really look forward to one-on-one or one-on-two contact.”

Volunteers aren’t there to replace the teacher’s role, Bakarich said. “We don’t expect them to teach or anything, just spend time reading with kids.”

Marge Henry and Bakarich’s mother started the program about six years ago. Volunteer Theo Hull, who has worked in the program since its inception, says the hour or two she spends each week is straightforward. “Mostly it’s having students read to me and helping them over stumbling blocks they may have,” she said. “It’s that simple.”

As Marsha Wahl and daughter Missy can testify, the volunteers are a positive influence. Missy went through the program in fifth grade, and Hull remembers her shyness. “I recall she didn’t really want to be there,” she said, “but she warmed up pretty fast.”

“I know I was really shy and I hated to read in front of other people,” Missy Wahl said. “At the time, I didn’t recognize I had a problem, but it helped a lot with my reading; it took something that was going on in class with more focus and personal attention. ”

“Missy loved Mrs. Hull,” Marsha Wahl said. “She always gave the kids the feeling what they were doing was worthwhile and good,” adding that feeling can leave a lasting impression on children. “I think any time you have a personal impact with a kid and you give of yourself, down the road they’ll realize you had an effect on them.”

Hull’s work with Missy may well have had that effect. Now a sophomore at California Lutheran University, she volunteers at a Boys and Girls Club in Thousand Oaks helping teens with their homework. She said she tries to be a role model for the children she works with. “I talk to teens about going to college and I talk a lot about getting good grades,” she said. “I see the fortunes of having volunteers read to me; it’s really important to volunteer and have people help kids.”

Marsha Wahl says she is sure the program affected Missy’s life. “I think it did have some influence on her,” she said. “It showed her that if you’ve have good mentoring, you can pass it on.”

Bakarich said mentoring often blossoms into getting children to talk about themselves. “Sometimes they spend time talking about their interests, what their, hobbies are,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s just getting kids to verbalize.”

Hull said those conversations often develop into mentoring as trust builds between the volunteers and children. “Some days if they’ve had a tough day at school or home, they just need to talk, so I’ve made some little friendships,” she said. “At the recent invention convention, I saw a little fifth grade girl I helped in second grade, and it was nice to re-establish that

Bakarich’s mother Norma Jean has also made that connection; a student once came to her house and introduced her parents when he recognized her car. “You’re touching lives, and it’s only an hour a week,” she said.

Although Bakarich said the ideal people for the program are retired seniors because their more open schedules allow for a more consistent day and time to volunteer, anyone who can read for the hour or so a week is encouraged to volunteer, even high school students. “They’re looking at a senior project for WASL, so maybe some could do this,” she said.

Marsha Wahl said volunteering is a way to help ensure kids broaden their horizons and realize they can improve their lives. “If people don’t volunteer, they won’t give back to society the quality of life they grew up with,” she said. “Our school district should never be without a full list of volunteers.”

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