Like many seniors, when Janet Pawlowski retired she decided it was time for her to give back to the community. Over the years, she has engaged in several volunteer venues, but she realized that her greatest enjoyment was working with children.
Through HandsOn Suburban Chicago, Senior Corps-RSVP member Janet found the best of both worlds-giving back and having fun in the giving.
When Senior Corps-RSVP began the Intergenerational Pen Pal program for elementary school students, Janet saw it as a perfect fit. Pen Pals is a group of Senior Corps-RSVP members who meet for almost 2 hours each month, October through March, and write letters to their “pen pals” at Jane Addams Elementary School in Palatine or Tarkington Elementary School in Wheeling. Many of these children do not have grandparents nearby so this is a way they can connect with another adult and share their experiences, their favorite TV shows, music groups and school activities. Besides enjoying reading the children’s questions and comments, Janet feels that letter writing serves another purpose-students learn how to communicate by composing sentences and organizing their thoughts. Teachers are delighted with the program as well.
“Pen Pals is very helpful for kids,” Janet said. “Reading and writing is so important. If you can’t communicate and be understood, what kind of job can you get?”
Last year, she learned about Lunch Buddies, a program which can provide students with academic and/or social/emotional support. She decided to volunteer and began meeting once a week with a student-now in fourth grade-during his lunch and recess hour. His main interest is building with Legos. Janet encourages him by adding the more complicated Legos to assemble, and he appears to enjoy the challenge. He constructs buildings and vehicles, so Janet asked if he would like to be an architect or construction worker. She plans on bringing in a book on architect careers to see if it lights a spark. For variety and exercise, they play court tennis and sometimes join up with another mentor and her student to play softball using wiffle balls.
“When I returned this year, he ran up and hugged me,” she said. “I knew I had made a difference.” As a mentor, Janet provides support, a person who listens and most of all, she’s a fun adult for him to hang with. The hours that Janet spends with her fourth grader are, as she calls it, “His Time.” “I like working with kids,” she said. “If you give them encouragement, it will follow through the rest of their lives. But you have to do it when they’re young.”
Janet is able to handle both volunteer experiences but she’s aware that volunteers need to budget their time, to avoid burn out. She has a message for those who are thinking of volunteering in more than one program: Pace yourself. Janet also advises that people should look objectively at ways their time is spent volunteering, even including their travel time. Then it’s a good idea to figure out how much actual time they have available.
However-and this is critical-she added that once the commitment is made, it’s important to be there. “Show up, she said “There’s someone counting on you. Everything else can wait.”
For those with other interests-serving the home-bound, working with seniors, or any of the many other ways to give back to the community-HandsOn Suburban Chicago offers countless opportunities in your chosen field.
by Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member
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