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Back to School in a Whole New Role

When Laurisa Elhai appeared at an Experience Corps info session, the EC Team thought, “Hey, we know that face!” Sure enough, the interview and application process quickly revealed that Laurisa had recently retired from her role as School Nurse at William Land Elementary, an Experience Corps tutoring site in downtown Sacramento.

“I wanted to tutor students at William Land in reading, and knew Experience Corps was a good program here,” she says. EC Volunteers have been serving at this site since the program began 2016, clearly making a good impression. Laurisa also had another element of motivation to return to William Land after her retirement, though: “Also, my grandson entered Kindergarten there last September. I now spend more time there than when I worked there 1-2 days a week!”

Before her going-on-seventeen-year stint at William Land Elementary, Laurisa was a Nurse Practitioner in community clinics across Sacramento. She also worked as a Physician Assistant in an OB-GYN department, taught at a Midwifery School, and raised two kids of her own. It’s easy to guess that Laurisa really likes – and is really good at – taking care of others.

Despite all her experience with stitches and band-aids, though, she is still learning how to wrangle in a rowdy reading session. “My biggest challenge is reigning in squiggly first graders,” she says. “They are all great kids.”

It comes as no surprise that she’s figuring it out just fine. “My students love Ms. Elhai. She is super nice and patient with them,” says Ms. Huang, a first-grade teacher at William Land. “They have gained a lot of progress in reading by working with her.”

Thankfully, Laurisa is just as good at letting loose and having a fun time. She is not only a visual artist, but a puppet-maker as well – and she sometimes performs with her husband, who is a songwriter and musician himself.  She loves picnicking and enjoying the outdoors with her family, whether the mountains or the ocean. But no matter how far she travels, she keeps coming back to William Land.

Nothing But Upside

Meet Tim Dobbins, a first-year Experience Corps tutor. He works with third graders in both regular school day and after-school at Golden Empire Elementary. We asked Tim a few questions about his life before becoming a volunteer and his experience as a tutor thus far in the year.


How did you spend your days before you joined Experience Corps (career path/background)?
I had a 34-year career in Electrical Engineering working at Texas Instruments, Honeywell, and Intel. After retiring from Intel in 2016 I worked in a few nonprofits, primarily at Impact Foundry. Impact Foundry, the nonprofit resource center for Northern California, provided a fantastic overview of the nonprofit community in Sacramento.


Describe a bit of your family.
I have a wife of 31 years, who’s an Industrial-Organizational (IO) Psychologist who leads a research team within the State of California, and a son that is suffering through his junior year in high school. We also have a dog and two cats without any education whatsoever.


What’s a fun fact we might not know about you from working with you through Experience Corps?
We had an Exchange student from Thailand living with us for the entire 2018-2019 school year.


What would a perfect day look like to you?
I would wake up and the country would be changed. People would disagree but seek to understand all sides of a discussion and look for compromise rather than preconceived bias based on the identity of the speaker. But since that is unlikely, I would take a day that donuts, fried chicken, French fries, nachos and cheeseburgers were all calorie free. That seems a lot more likely than my first idea.


What drew you to become an Experience Corps volunteer?
I loved working with the team at Impact Foundry, and I loved the nonprofit environment. I wanted to experience some work directly with people that are being impacted by nonprofit efforts. Add to that the overwhelming importance of reading to the development and open mindedness of young people, and the fact that here we have a fully developed program with associated validation studies to show that it works. All I have to do is follow the plan that I was taught.


What’s been your favorite thing about tutoring so far? What’s the biggest challenge?
Without a doubt the favorite thing is the people, both the kids and the other volunteers/workers. The level of commitment and concern for the kids in the other volunteers is so motivating to me. And the kids are just a kick in the rear to help me remember life is awesome. The biggest challenge is getting rev’d up for the day. I don’t have a great connection with every kid, and sometimes the kids want to play more than read. But that is why I love this program. Just get through the reading games, talk to them about the book, then read a book to the kids. It is so stinking easy with nothing but upside.

Volunteer Spotlight – Girl Scouts – Heart of Central California

November 2019: Kathleen Bo-Mie Pae

Each month, we are happy to highlight a volunteer at GSHCC who dedicates their time and talent to Girl Scouts. Thank you volunteers for helping build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.

Volunteer Spotlight  - Abby Silver

Name:
Kathleen Bo-Mie Pae

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am the After School Education & Safety (ASES) Program Manager at Pacific Elementary School, in addition to being an after school Girl Scout troop leader.

Were you a Girl Scout? If yes, where?
No, but I would have had the opportunity been readily available.

How long have you volunteered with Girl Scouts? What volunteer role do you have?
Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, I became a troop leader and brought Girl Scouts culture into my space along with 3 other troop leaders. I attended the last GSHCC Big Volunteer Conference offered and have contributed to ongoing training by offering programmatic tips to incoming troop leaders.

Why do you volunteer for Girl Scouts?
I believe in the power of culture. Our girls can reach their full potential through support from a mentor or peers.

What’s your favorite thing about volunteering with Girl Scouts?
I love the inclusivity and positivity that is at the forefront of the organization. This helps our girls be comfortable in their skin, allowing them to take innovative risks to find solutions to novel issues.

What advice would you give to young girls?
Failure is an opportunity. Be a rebel leader.

Favorite Girl Scout Cookie flavor?
Thin Mints

Outside of volunteering, what are a few of your hobbies?
When my body wasn’t broken I was an avid rugby player. Now I love to relax at home while reading with my cat. Art is great in any medium. If I hear music, I will sing. 

Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines – INTERGENERATIONAL TUTORING HELPS KIDS READ AT GRADE LEVEL by Jessica Laskey

When Fruitridge Manor resident Susan Just started volunteering with AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps—an intergenerational tutoring program that helps children become grade-level readers by the end of third grade—she chose to work with kindergartners because she has “a lot in common” with them.

“I thought kindergarten was a good place to start,” says the 65-year-old, who retired as a manager in the state Department of Education’s Early Education and Support Division in 2016. “I’d never been a teacher—even though I worked for the Department of Education, that wasn’t my role—so I wanted to start at the beginning. For many children, kindergarten is the first time they’ve been to school, so this way, we can both start together.”

Experience Corps began 20 years ago and is now offered in 21 cities nationwide with approximately 2,000 volunteers—all 50 years and older. The Sacramento program launched in 2016 with the help of the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center and United Way California Capital Region. Last year, the program served 637 students at nine schools, with 4,400 hours donated by 40 community volunteers, such as Just.

“Experience Corps has everything I could ask for in a volunteer experience,” says Just, who also cycles for the homeless-support ministry Mercy Pedalers. “They empower you to feel successful.”

Just visits her assigned school site, Sacramento City Unified’s Nicholas Elementary School, one to two days a week and works with three students in the library with materials provided by Experience Corps. The tutoring sessions provide targeted practice in reading comprehension with a goal of fluency at grade level by the end of the program. Experience Corps’ ultimate mission is to disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of Sacramento’s most vulnerable children.

“When I first started at the beginning of the school year, the kids didn’t know even simple words,” Just says. “It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come. This year’s program ended in May with an appreciation luncheon, during which they presented us with handwritten thank you notes. It was fabulous.”

Part of what has made Experience Corps such a pleasant part of Just’s life is how easy the organization makes it. Volunteers are trained and provided with all the materials they need. They also have direct contact with a coordinator to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.

“If you’re someone in the community who doesn’t know what to do with your time but you want to volunteer, know that Experience Corps is a very well-organized, encouraging, supportive program,” Just says.

But even more than the attention to detail, Just loves how Experience Corps benefits her community.

“Volunteering gives you a wonderful sense of belonging,” Just says. “I happened to grow up in an amazing family, but I know that not all children get that opportunity. It’s important to be someone in someone else’s life. It’s extremely rewarding.”

For more information, visit aarp.org/experience-corps.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

And the Award Goes to…. Cadie Marotta

Cadie Marotta reads to students as part of the AARP Experience Corps program.

One of our volunteers, Cadie Marotta, recently received Daily Point of Light Award and was featured on their website. The award is given out each weekday to those extraordinary volunteers who are donating their time and talent to better their communities. Ms. Cadie has volunteered at Earl Warren Elementary for 2 years. She tutors Experience Corps students and helps in the Kindergarten classroom. Thank you for your commitment and dedication, Cadie!

Volunteer Spotlight

Jan Mishler, Pacific Elementary

Challenge Accepted

Jan Mishler is no stranger to volunteering. Aside from her 45 years in the radiology department at Kaiser, she was also a full-time pastor’s wife—a nonstop job. “It was a lot of volunteer work with the church,” she says, “a lot.”

Perhaps she’s simply got a helping nature, or perhaps she’s used to filling her time doing whatever she can to serve her community. Before she joined Experience Corps, she spent ten years after retirement volunteering at schools in her grandchildren’s classrooms, and doing “a lot of grandchild-taking-care-of.” While she loved being around the kids, the monotony of classroom support began to wear on her a little bit.

“When you’re volunteering in your grandchild’s classroom, it’s cut-and-staple and help-kids-go-to-the-bathroom,” she explains. “There’s really not a whole lot of educational value in it for the kids.” Eventually, she volunteered to help her middle grandchild’s class read, a Kindergarten class at the time. “That was a challenge,” says Jan. “A lot of them come to Kindergarten without any reading skills.”

This experience sparked something in Jan. When she felt challenged, she felt more connected, and she felt like she was giving more to the classroom and students. She began looking for other opportunities to continue the trend.

“Right before I got hooked up with Experience Corps, I thought, Gosh, I’ve gotta do something that’s interesting. So I found the ad in the paper and the rest is history.”

Jan certainly has risen to the challenge, tutoring both first- and third-grade students at Pacific Elementary. While not always easy, Jan’s passion and dedication have created some pretty special moments in her tutoring groups. Her favorite thing about tutoring, she says, is when a student finally gets it.

“When they start plowing through a page, when they want to read first before you read to them—my kids say, ‘I want to read it cold!’ That meant they wanted to learn and they wanted me to know that they could do it.”

Jan considers herself a pretty normal person. “I’m kind of ordinary. I love working in the garden, I used to drive go karts, I guess, and I’m a good cook, and I spit watermelon seeds across the room—my grandkids think that’s kind of fun.”

But sitting in on her sessions—whether it’s during her pre-session breathing exercises, her mid-session dance/wiggle breaks (she has perfected “the floss” this year – see the picture above), or overhearing a little bit of singing during a choral read—you know there’s nothing normal about what’s going on. In fact, it’s something pretty special.