When Fruitridge Manor resident Susan Just started volunteering with AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps—an intergenerational tutoring program that helps children become grade-level readers by the end of third grade—she chose to work with kindergartners because she has “a lot in common” with them.
“I thought kindergarten was a good place to start,” says the 65-year-old, who retired as a manager in the state Department of Education’s Early Education and Support Division in 2016. “I’d never been a teacher—even though I worked for the Department of Education, that wasn’t my role—so I wanted to start at the beginning. For many children, kindergarten is the first time they’ve been to school, so this way, we can both start together.”
Experience Corps began 20 years ago and is now offered in 21 cities nationwide with approximately 2,000 volunteers—all 50 years and older. The Sacramento program launched in 2016 with the help of the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center and United Way California Capital Region. Last year, the program served 637 students at nine schools, with 4,400 hours donated by 40 community volunteers, such as Just.
“Experience Corps has everything I could ask for in a volunteer experience,” says Just, who also cycles for the homeless-support ministry Mercy Pedalers. “They empower you to feel successful.”
Just visits her assigned school site, Sacramento City Unified’s Nicholas Elementary School, one to two days a week and works with three students in the library with materials provided by Experience Corps. The tutoring sessions provide targeted practice in reading comprehension with a goal of fluency at grade level by the end of the program. Experience Corps’ ultimate mission is to disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of Sacramento’s most vulnerable children.
“When I first started at the beginning of the school year, the kids didn’t know even simple words,” Just says. “It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come. This year’s program ended in May with an appreciation luncheon, during which they presented us with handwritten thank you notes. It was fabulous.”
Part of what has made Experience Corps such a pleasant part of Just’s life is how easy the organization makes it. Volunteers are trained and provided with all the materials they need. They also have direct contact with a coordinator to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.
“If you’re someone in the community who doesn’t know what to do with your time but you want to volunteer, know that Experience Corps is a very well-organized, encouraging, supportive program,” Just says.
But even more than the attention to detail, Just loves how Experience Corps benefits her community.
“Volunteering gives you a wonderful sense of belonging,” Just says. “I happened to grow up in an amazing family, but I know that not all children get that opportunity. It’s important to be someone in someone else’s life. It’s extremely rewarding.”
For more information, visit aarp.org/experience-corps.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.