The senior citizens of the Lifetoucher Volunteer Program reach across generations to help young children of the Darien School District No. 61 improve academically.
With 24 volunteers this past school year, the program successfully provided instruction and tutoring to students who needed extra help, no matter the subject. Some volunteers worked on poetry and reading with the children, while others provided math exercises and helped them make flashcards.
Lillian Brown, an 83-year-old volunteer at Mark DeLay School, worked with second-graders, mostly on an individual basis. She said she aimed to improve their reading skills and read poems, both to and with the children. At home, the children were encouraged to read to their families and obtain parent or guardian signatures after they were done.
Brown said as the children worked on their reading, they were awarded small prizes, including stickers and basic school supplies.
“The children really enjoyed it,” she said. “It was nice to hear them as they learned new words … it helps increase their reading skills.”
The program began as an effort to increase the role of senior citizens in the community and is led by Mary Swenson, a social worker at Mark DeLay School.
“We are very fortunate that our area senior citizens and retirees are lending their time and talents to help our students,” Swenson said in a newsletter for the school district in 2008. “These Lifetoucher volunteers often remark that they truly feel they get more out of the experience than they give.”
A mother of a reading specialist at Mark DeLay School, Charlene Folkens has been a Lifetoucher for the past four years and said she has tutored a total of about 25 to 30 children.
The program isn’t just work but is also a way for the senior citizens to communicate and connect with the children, as the program provides one on one time for the children to interact with adults, Folkens said.
“I like it and I feel good about it,” she said. “It’s really fulfilling. You talk to them and they tell you little things about their lives.”
The same can be said for Diane Simms, a volunteer who said she likes to bring her own storybooks for the children and present her collection of presidential buttons, sharing her hobbies and catching the children’s interest.
A Lifetoucher since 2003 at Lace Elementary School, Simms said she always loved to read and work with children. When she retired, she said she wanted to continue to do so.
“I like being in the school, I like being with the kids,” she said. “I like to inspire them to read.”
The students are not the only ones who gain from the program. Simms said at the end of the year, the children like to make her cards, a touching gesture that lets Simms know that she had made an impact.
“They’ll say, ‘Hey, you really helped me,’” she said. “I feel like in their little notes and little pictures, they are thanking me.”
The program is always looking for volunteers as students head back to school. To become a Lifetoucher volunteer, contact Mary Swenson at (630)-852-0200.