Archive for Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Volunteers take satisfaction from helping students

April 25, 2001

For Bob Kasper, working with students is just about as rewarding as it gets.

Kasper, a retired minister, works with ninth-graders at Tonganoxie Junior High School.

"I just help with the homework when they have class homework," he said.

And then there's the time Kasper spends at Tonganoxie Elementary School.

"There are three sixth-graders who are eager beavers on math, and they want to go faster than the class can go," Kasper said. "I meet with them in the hallway."

Kasper is one of many volunteers whom Tonganoxie school teachers welcome into their classrooms.

Most of the volunteers are coordinated through the Community Education and Volunteer Center, where nearly 20 people volunteer each week.

"You have males and females, you have some mothers who are nonworking, mothers who volunteer because they want to get involved with what their kids are doing at school," said Earleta Morey, director of the volunteer center.

"Then you have an awful lot of them who are retired people who are looking for something to do in the community. It's a community thing, it's their socializing time. They come here to socialize, they come here to visit."

It is fitting to spotlight the work of Morey and her troupe of volunteers this week, which is National Volunteer Week.

Helen Reed said it's the children at Tonganoxie Elementary School who've kept her going during the past 15 years.

"I cannot go any place in town the grocery store, the post office without somebody saying, 'hi,'" Reed said.

Reed works in five classrooms, as well as at the volunteer center.

"I just listen to kids read, go over math facts, help them correct pages," she said. "If they miss a lot, I sit down and figure out the new math that they're doing like nine and three is 13. I say, 'Let's work this out.' I just mainly do what the teacher tells me to do."

Thanks to Reed's guiding hand, students in the second grade each year complete a dinosaur.

"We have a frame of wood and wire, and it gets a new skin every year," Reed said. "I sort of supervise."

The underlying reason Reed continues to help at the elementary school is the feeling of satisfaction she receives each day.

"If I can help one kid learn, it makes my day," she said. "I feel good about it, rather than staying at home with the four walls saying, 'Hello there, I'm going to crowd in on you.' I really enjoy working with the kids. Most of them are sweeties. I have had one or two refuse to work with me. Most of the time, all if have to do is say, 'tell the teacher you don't want to work with me.' And guess what? They come back and ask if they can work with me."

Volunteer center works help with a wide variety of tasks, including kindergarten roundup, Grandparents Day, gifts during the Christmas season, book distributions through the Reading is Fundamental program and book repairs.

"We also do bookbinding for all three schools," Morey said. "We'll bind books that the kids have written."

And then there's the annual spring surprise.

"Every year, the day before school is out for spring break, we hand out something that we have made," Morey said.

"We take it around to each classroom as the class is out at recess and put it on each desk and run away like the Easter bunny."

The 23-year-old volunteer center was established with a community education grant that funded its first two years of operation.

"Then the school decided to sponsor it," Morey said.

The center also handles community education, including classes in computers, yoga, basket weaving and quilt-making.

And the center sponsors the Afternoon Academy, which runs during the six weeks before spring break. This year, 90 students enrolled in classes, including chess, cooking, sign language and woodworking.

"We never have enough instructors or space to have classes for the academy," Morey said.

The center takes a no-pressure approach with its volunteers.

"We don't ask anybody to do anything they don't want to do," Morey said. "We do become very close. We become friends with everyone."

Like Reed, Kasper said his volunteer work at the school is truly fulfilling.

"I like math, and I was very good at it," he said. "I may have been a minister, but I majored in engineering. And I like kids. It's just really satisfying to feel like you've made a difference to somebody."

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