“Are you coming back next week?”
It’s a question that Pat Shaw has heard on more than one occasion from an enthusiastic student whom she’s come to know in her role as a tutor with the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program in Denver, CO. Luckily, for the students and for Pat, the answer to that simple question has been a resounding “yes” for 20 years.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to work with so many children over the years,” says Pat. “It’s so fulfilling. Sometimes a child needs some self-confidence or they just need someone to be that one-on-one with them.”
A former kindergarten teacher, Pat says that volunteering as an Oasis tutor has given her meaningful connections with students and a sense of belonging with the school community.
“I get such a warm reception every time I come into the building, from students, teachers and people in the office. It makes me feel like I’m wanted, needed and an important part of the routine,” she says.
Pat is among the nearly 4,500 older adults across the country serving as Oasis tutors. Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring is the largest older adult tutoring program in the U.S., and has reached more than 444,000 children since its inception in 1989. The program pairs older adults with children in grades K-3 to work one-on-one each with as their tutors, mentors and friends. Oasis tutors use a six-step approach to literacy designed by educators that emphasizes improved reading, speaking, listening and writing.
A lasting connection
Pat joins 11 other tutors nationwide this year being honored for 20 years of service in that role. That kind of longevity strengthens the program, as well as the experience for tutors.
“Most tutors do not start the program thinking about a long-term commitment, but they do come to the process looking for a sense of meaning and purpose,” says Mary Click, National Director of Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring. “Once they discover the direct impact that they can have with a child, most are hooked and ready to come back year after year. When they do that, they only get stronger as tutors, which benefits the children and schools they serve.”
Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring has a very strong retention rate, well over 80 percent. There are a number of reasons that Oasis tutors stay committed to the program. Through regular surveys, tutors report improved outlook and self-care, better health and a reduction in feelings of social isolation.
In 2018, a number of tutors nationwide will be honored for milestone years of service with the program: 211 will be recognized for completing five years; 90 will be honored for serving 10 years; 33 tutors have served for 15 years; 12 will be recognized for 20 years; and one tutor has volunteered with the program for 24 years.
Tutor, poet and friend
John Candelaria has been an Oasis tutor in Albuquerque, NM for 10 years. The experience has been rewarding on so many levels, and he’s still learning with each year, each student he meets.
“I’m having a really good year,” says John. “The student I’m working with now is reading very well, and his test scores are up. It’s really rewarding to be able to see that kind of success and to be a part of it.”
John’s experiences as a tutor have enhanced another passion of his: poetry. A published poet, he incorporates poetry into all of his sessions with students and has even written a poem about tutoring called "A Tale of the Oasis Tutor," which was published in the Oasis Journal in 2012. He’s working on new poem called "What Tutors Learn."
“Seeing the joy in a child’s face when he or she finally gets something they are reading is so rewarding,” says John.
A sense of wonder
Lucy Kammer never comes to a tutoring session without a plan. That’s one thing she’s learned after 15 years as an Oasis tutor in San Antonio, TX.
“I usually have three activities ready to go, so that I always have something that I think will be of interest to the children I’m working with,” says Lucy, who taught high school herself before retirement, but taught all four of her own children to read.
“As I’ve come along, I’ve seen the sense of wonder that might have been lost somewhere along the way if a child had not been working with tutor and developed a joy of reading. It’s important to keep that sense of wonder alive, that desire to read,” she says.
24 years and counting
Twenty-four years is a long time to commit to anything, but to Betty Heath, of St. Louis, finding volunteer positions she likes and sticking with them makes perfect sense.
“I guess I’m just that kind of person,” says Betty, who also volunteers with her church, as an usher with a local theater and has delivered meals to shut-ins.
She considers the 24 years she’d dedicated as an Oasis tutor as time well spent. She’s worked with children in two local elementary schools, focusing primarily on students in kindergarten, first and second grades. Betty says it’s the children who kept her coming back year after year.
“It’s really interesting to work will all kinds of children who have different needs. Sometimes, you’ll get assigned to a child who is very capable academically, but for one reason or another, needs some one-on-one support. It’s really fun to come up with things that challenge and interest a child like that, too.”
Find out more about Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring.
Volunteering is part of the Oasis mission
Tutoring is just one of the many ways that Oasis participants across the country have found meaningful ways to volunteer. Many serve as class instructors and facilitator for lifelong learning and health classes, support center operations and help to guide and develop innovative programs. Including tutors, more than 6,200 adults volunteered in some way through Oasis in 2018.
To learn more about other Oasis volunteer opportunities, contact an Oasis center near you.