OASIS volunteers bring a wide range of talents to their roles. For the last seven years Don Dempsey has used many different strategies to spark enthusiasm for reading in the students he tutors through St. Louis OASIS.
Sometimes he brings in his banjo and shows them a chord or two. Through shared experiences like this, tutors pique kids' interests and inspire them to tell their own stories, making language and reading come alive.
Dempsey worked for nearly forty years in the printing business; now he works with children at Sappington School in the Lindbergh school district. "I have a particular affection for the school," he says. My three daughters went there. I have had a new student each year. Sometimes they come from single parent families. There are not as many men who are tutors, and children benefit from a positive male role model."
"We start in October and it takes all of October and November and even up to Christmas vacation for the student to warm up to you. Usually the student is lacking some skill, whether it's social or reading or writing. Last year I had a first grader who was reading at the third or fourth grade level but refused to write. After six months we began to see results as he started writing. For several weeks we each wrote a diary of what we did and then we read each other's diary.
"Each child I have had has been different, has had some aspect of their personality or need that I enjoy being around. You may never know the real results, but I sometimes run into students I have worked with and I always get a friendly Hello!"
Like the thousands of OASIS tutors who return year after year to their neighborhood schools, Dempsey is very committed to his role. "When I got my Starfish pin after five years I was surprised that I had lasted that long, but it's been seven years now," he says. "I have committed for another year so I might as well go for the 10 year mark!"