October 29, 2012

RSVP – Lead With Experience

By Bill Sedlacek
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program
of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

Joy Andrews sharing a love of learning

RSVP Director’s note: RSVP partners with schools, after school programs and organizations like CASI to train tutors and mentors throughout the region. Training materials, support and supplies are provided through fundraising efforts, such as an upcoming RSVP fundraiser November 12 at Pizza Ranch, 800 Lincoln Rd. Bettendorf. RSVP Advisory Council members and other volunteers will buss tables from 5 to 9 p.m. Ten percent of the proceeds and all tips during those hours will go to RSVP. Please join us at Pizza Ranch on the November 12 and help us support great programs like Listen to Me Read.

Whether used for pleasure or in the pursuit of knowledge, everyone would agree that good reading skills are important in our lives. The best time to develop good reading skills is early in a child’s academic life. RSVP member Joy Andrews, the “Listen to me Read” coordinator at the Center for Active Seniors (CASI) is keenly aware of this and has devoted a good part of the last 12 years of her life helping children in kindergarten through 3rd grade with development of reading skills. Joy, born and raised in Davenport, is not a newcomer to volunteering. After taking early retirement from an AT&T supervisory position, Joy spent five years as a big sister to a girl growing up in a single parent household. Along with this, she also was the president of the AT&T Pioneers, a group of retired volunteers who, among other community services, managed Junior Achievement programs in Iowa Quad-City schools. One of the most unusual experiences was her management of a JA event with kindergarteners at Pleasant View School. With the attention span of kindergarteners, I can only imagine what a challenge that was. After the Junior Achievement experience, she decided that she wanted to continue to work with school children. That’s when her association with the CASI “Listen to me Read” program began. After attending a CASI fund raising event as an AT&T representative, she met the manager of the CASI program. This program, started by CASI in 1991, began with six volunteers working in four schools. Since then, more than 300 volunteers have participated in the program in more than 40 Scott County schools. The program appealed to Joy, and she began volunteering in it.

Joy, now a part time CASI employee, still volunteers in the program. She and 35 other volunteers worked 1,736 hours in 16 Iowa Quad city schools last year. The volunteers are asked to provide one hour per week at an assigned school, but can work longer if the teacher asks them to stay. Their one-on-one sessions with students typically last 10 to 15 minutes per student during which the volunteer listens to the child read, helps them as necessary and praises their progress. Besides the volunteers, local businesses such as Genesis, ALCOA and many others, provide financial support and volunteer hours to the program.

Joy’s involvement with children is not limited to the “Listen to me Read” program. She is also a mentor for a JB Young student, just beginning her third year with him.

Joy is justifiably proud of the program, which has received awards from the State of Iowa, the National Senior Center, the Helping Us Grow (HUG) from the Davenport School District, The Individual Volunteer Iowa Governor’s Award, the Quad City Interfaith Group, and a Bi-State Literacy Award.

Joy is always recruiting new volunteers. Those who volunteer have often said that they get much more from the program than they give to the program. They feel a genuine connection to the children and realize that helping them in this important phase of their academic life is so very important. She emphasizes that there is no obligation to continue in the program after the initial two hour training. The training is a good way to see if the program is a good fit for you. If you decide it is, you are welcomed into it; if you decide it is not, you are thanked for your time. Accommodations are made for vacations and travel, just let the teacher and students know that you are gone for a reason and have not left them.

I do not know where the saying began, but as I was interviewing Joy, I remembered, “No one stands as tall as when they stoop to help a child.” The saying certainly applies to her.

If you would like to volunteer, or learn more about Listen to Me Read, and other opportunities such as tutoring and mentoring students throughout the region, please call RSVP at (309) 793-4425 or email lhixon@wiaaa.org