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Would you like to make a real difference in children’s lives? Do you have a few hours each week to do some volunteer work? Then you might want to consider volunteering in a classroom, through the Lake Pend Oreille School District’s Volunteers and Invested Parents program (VIP). Many retired citizens and parents are doing just that, and they’re discovering a deep sense of satisfaction by helping local students.

Funded by grants from the Equinox Foundation and the Panhandle Alliance for Education, the program is directed by Volunteer Coordinator Brenda Woodward. Brenda is a former university, community college and high school teacher, an active volunteer since her high school days, and the parent of two LPOSD students. She says she loves her job, especially “finding the perfect match” of volunteer and classroom. Brenda says any adult can enjoy volunteering at a school, because every person has a talent or skill to offer. “When we can find a place for people to shine and share their talents with kids, it just makes me smile.”

Volunteer assistance really can make a difference. Classroom volunteers improve students’ academic achievement and their classroom behavior, show children that adults value them and their education, and can fill gaps created by budget shortfalls. Another benefit is that children who are helped by volunteers are more likely to serve their community in the future.

Jim Ramsey, a local author, is one of Brenda’s “perfect matches.” He regularly comes to Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School to listen to second-graders read out loud, and he’s been able to use his writing talents to help kids write autobiographical pieces. As Brenda says, “How perfect is that?!” Another frequent volunteer is Ruby Hyde, who works with fifth-grade students at Southside Elementary School, teaching them how to knit. The baby hats that Ruby and the children make are then donated to hospitals. Says Brenda, “The kids learn a life skill from Ruby while hearing and sharing stories. That’s a win-win situation.”

Retired teacher Mary Toland says of her volunteer work for VIP: “When I retired, I found I missed the creativity and energy of being in a classroom. There’s nothing like being a witness to those moments when students comprehend a new skill or concept. My favorite part of being a volunteer is observing teachers and students learning together, and being part of that process.” Mary adds that volunteering “(just requires) flexibility and a desire to learn and grow. It takes a bit of courage to begin, but the rewards are beyond words.”

Doug Toland, a retired engineer, started coming to the classroom when his and Mary’s daughter was young, “in order to understand her struggles. That meant taking time off work, but it was worth every penny in many ways. (Now that I’m retired) I particularly enjoy working in small groups and one-on-one. Developing meaningful relationships with teachers and students makes my life so much more interesting!”

Parent volunteers enjoy working with not only their own children but other students. Jacinda Bokowy, who says she has always volunteered in her children’s schools, enthuses about “getting to know the kids my daughters go to school with. It’s (great to see) the kids grow up, from preschoolers up to middle school.” She feels she has made a positive impact on students’ lives because “Kids love to show you their work and hear your praise.” Jacinda has also seen that teachers benefit from having regular volunteers. “Some of the ways we can help teachers is by grading spelling tests, making copies, etc. That way, teachers have more time to teach – more time to be in front of the class, interacting with the students.”

Brenda Woodward emphasizes that there are lots of ways volunteers can help out. “If you like to read, you can read with individual students or small groups for an hour or two each week. If you like math, maybe you can help students practice math facts. You can make copies for teachers, assist on field trips or on the playground, or help out with one-day events like mock interviews for speech. There are so many ways to make a difference!”

If you’re interested in school volunteering, please contact Brenda at brenda.woodward@lposd.org or 263-2184, extension 1017. She says she would “love to talk to you!”

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