After 20 years as an Oasis tutor, Estelle Rosen keeps at it for one good reason: she knows she’s needed.
She discovered this with the help of a little girl named Chelsea, who still cherishes their special bond after all these years.
It’s been a long time since Chelsea Shea was in the first grade. She is married now, and a recent college graduate with her sights set on being a teacher, but she does remember what it felt like to be a little girl struggling to do something that seemed so easy for everyone else: reading.
“I was so frustrated,” she recalls. “I couldn’t figure it out.”
The stumbling took Chelsea by surprise. She’d always loved being read to by adults, and kindergarten had been so fun. But when it came time to start trying to read on her own, things weren’t so fun anymore.
Then along came Mrs. Rosen.
A tutor with the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring Program, Estelle Rosen, also known to many friends and family as Alene, came to Rose Acres Elementary School, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, once a week with one priority: spending time with Chelsea to get her up to speed on reading.
Looking back, Chelsea is not sure she can pinpoint exactly the first day she and Estelle met, but she does remember certain days, certain moments from that school year. Success didn’t happen overnight. There were moments of frustration, which were met with a remedy that just about any child might need once in awhile.
“Mrs. Rosen always seemed to know when we needed a brain break,” recalls Chelsea. “One day, we just went outside and jumped rope. I was tickled pink.”
Eventually there was a breakthrough, and that moment, for Chelsea, will never be forgotten.
“I remember sitting there listening to Mrs. Rosen read a book, and then reading it aloud to myself. I remember feeling this sense of joy and thinking to myself, ‘I can read this book!’ I felt a sense of accomplishment. Reading didn’t feel as impossible as it had before.”
The book was Pancakes for Breakfast, by Tomie dePaola. “He is still one of my favorite children’s authors,” she says.
As the school year came to a close, Estelle’s mission was accomplished. Chelsea had gained the confidence she needed to keep progressing on her own. It was time to think about the next year and the next child. But Estelle knew Chelsea had changed her forever.
Along came Chelsea
By the time she met Chelsea, Estelle was already committed to tutoring, having worked with two other children.
“My first student was a little boy,” she says. “This worked out well because as the mother of three sons, I was familiar with boys. The second child was a blue-eyed blonde. She was so smart and funny.”
Then there was Chelsea.
“We just clicked. Chelsea was the child that demonstrated what I believe the ideal tutoring experience should be,” Estelle says. “This precious child really wanted to be with me, and often didn’t want to go back to the classroom. I would have to be the adult and insist, but I always said, ‘Chelsea, I am coming to back to see you next week.’ We really didn’t want to part.”
Like many Oasis tutors, Estelle was drawn to the program because she likes children and wanted to give something back by volunteering. She was not expecting to be on the receiving end of the relationship.
“It was hard for me to get up and down the stairs,” recalls Estelle. “I’ll never forget when Chelsea said to me, ‘Can I hold your hand?’ I encouraged her and she encouraged me. We formed such a wonderful friendship.”
A lasting impression
Chelsea went on to second grade, and Estelle to another student, but the two never lost touch.
“We just really had a connection,” says Chelsea. “That connection made all the difference. Mrs. Rosen has always felt like a second grandma to me. We communicated mostly through letters, and she would make me little gifts. My parents’ house was right behind the school, where she was still tutoring, and sometimes my mother would arrange for short little visits.”
Estelle was invited to milestones, like an honor society event and high school graduation, even Chelsea’s wedding. Estelle couldn’t make the ceremony, but Chelsea made sure to drop by, bringing a special wedding bouquet to celebrate the occasion with her special friend.
To both, the connection and the inclusion seem natural. These days, the two stay connected with frequent letters and regular phone calls, as Chelsea now lives in North Dakota with her husband. When they come home over the holidays, a visit to Estelle is always on the itinerary.
“It is my privilege to know such a beautiful young woman,” says Estelle. “She has brightened my life, and I think I have brightened hers.”
Chelsea graduated from Minot State University, in Minot, North Dakota, where she lives with her husband. She has a degree in elementary education, with a concentration in reading and kindergarten.
“I always felt that I was going to be a teacher, that I was called by God to work with kids in some way,” says Chelsea. “I would be happy even if I could impact just one child like Mrs. Rosen did for me—she taught me how to read!”
Seeing the connection between volunteering and health
Estelle did growing and changing of her own over time as well, perfecting her craft as a tutor.
“I never give up on a child. I try to discover topics that I think they will like. I’ve learned over the years how important it is to just listen to them.”
“Chelsea was very special,” she says. “My experience with this child motivated me to keep going with all the other children I have come to know, even though I didn’t always feel great some of the time. I bring my enthusiasm to work with each child and I get there and focus on them.”
Estelle’s motivation to stay healthy and active, so that she could keep volunteering is not unique. In fact, a recent study published in Social Science and Medicine found that Americans 50+ who volunteered were more likely to get flu shots, mammograms and other health screenings than those who didn’t volunteer. Another study found older adults who volunteer have lower mortality rates and higher life satisfaction.
At 84, Estelle has no plans to stop tutoring anytime soon.
“I don’t think we ever outgrow the need to love someone and have that person love you back,” she says.
Estelle is one of nearly 5,000 Oasis tutors working in 19 U.S. cities today. Since 1989, Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring has reached more than 444,000 children. Inspiring more adults to get involved. To learn more, visit Oasisnet.org/Tutoring.
Oasis is proud to partner with Generation to Generation, a national campaign that aims to mobilize one million adults age 50+ over the next five years to support young people. The campaign was launched in 2016 by Encore.org, a national nonprofit that advocates “second acts for the greater good.”