April 30, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

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

Roger Freiburg: Many Children’s Friend

When Roger Freiburg said that he was “Going on 90,” it reminded of what my relatives, who made it to that august age, said about the experience, “90 is pushing me, but I’m pushing right back.” Seeing his “neat as a pin” house, the open mystery novel he said he would finish reading yet that day and his keen interest in all that life has yet to offer, I’m convinced this “Going on 90” widower is not letting the aging process push him around.

Roger graduated from St Ambrose in 1949, the same year that his late wife, Jean graduated from Marycrest College with a dual degree in teaching and social services. He went on to a 35-year career as a Proctor and Gamble sales representative, while she worked as the Social Services Director of Head Start, and then went on to teach, retiring later from Frances Willard School in Rock Island.

Jean is the reason that Roger became a volunteer in the RSVP “Reading for Understanding” Program. She told him, “I’m going to volunteer for this program, and I want you to do the same.” He protested that he knew nothing about tutoring, and she replied, “You don’t have to, just smile and show them you care.” She was right, and you wives may want to take note of this conversation and of the contribution that volunteering may have made to Roger’s success in ‘Pushing Back” the aging process.

He has been a volunteer at the Academy, a Rock Island primary school, for over 15 years. In addition, among many other things, he has been a Boy Scout Leader, was a Kid’s Expo volunteer, was and still is active in the St. Pius Catholic Church as a member of the council and a Eucharistic minister, visiting hospital patients and giving communion.

Roger is modest in saying, “I really don’t do anything special.” As we began discussing what he does and how he interrelates with the students, his underestimation of what he does for Academy students became obvious. To begin working with the second graders referred by the teachers, he smiles and greets the student, introducing himself as “Roger.” He then lets the student pick out a book on their own from a library of kindergarten through 4th grade books. This gives him a general indication of the child’s interest and level of reading skill. Encouraging the child, he asks them to begin reading aloud, providing guidance in a friendly way on reading skills, such as dropping your voice at a period, having a questioning tone when reading a question, using reading rhythm and proper pronunciation. He engages the child with small talk to put them at ease and lets them know he is not there to quiz on what they do outside of reading or to discipline them, but to help. He says he always leaves them with a smile and encouragement. “Good Job” is always warranted, and exceptional jobs are praised more. He says he treats them with respect and they respect him and appreciate what he does.

Roger works only with 2nd graders and as such, does not get an opportunity to see progress in the next grade and wishes he had a way to judge what, if any lasting effect he has had on the child. He voiced this concern to one teacher, and she gave him a very good answer, “Roger, you are an adult, a male figure and the kids love you. You do make a lasting difference.” I am reminded of Joy Andrews’ interview on CASI’s “Listen to Me Read Program” and this quote: “No one stands taller than when they stoop to help a child.” This also applies to Roger and his work in the RSVP “Reading for Understanding” Program. To become a Reading for Understanding tutor or mentor, contact Julie at RSVP (309) 793-4425 or email jross@wiaaa.org. RSVP is a program of the Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging, Rock Island.