By Brent Rollins
Volunteering is a great way to serve your community while you are doing something that you are passionate about. I’ve been a longtime community volunteer, but a recent opportunity further opened my eyes to the importance of community service.
I discovered Read to Succeed Buffalo’s (RTSB) Experience Corps tutoring program through an advertisement. The program connects retired folks like me with Buffalo Public Schools students in grades K-3 who struggle with reading. Since our nine grandchildren live out of town and I wanted share the lessons of my life’s experience, I decided to volunteer. Older generations have a responsibility to give back and prepare younger generations for what’s to come.
At my first meeting with RTSB staff, I was impressed with their passion and understanding of how to best help children learn to read. It’s no secret that literacy rates in any city can be improved. RTSB broke down the local statistics thoroughly and had a plan to tackle this issue, which really appealed to me. When I walked out of my first meeting I knew this organization was something I wanted to be a part of, and I soon discovered that it was something there was a great need for me to be a part of.
As I wrap up my second year as an Experience Corps tutor, I can’t help but reflect on how my perception of this program has changed over time. I knew I would spend time reading with children, but I didn’t fully appreciate what a challenge literacy is for some young children in poverty-stricken communities. Children who struggle with reading are often frustrated in the classroom and that frustration can lead to perceived or real behavior problems. This is the first step in the “school-to-prison pipeline” that primarily plagues low-income communities of color.
The ACLU describes the school-to-prison pipeline as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”
Many of these children have histories of poverty or ineffective mentoring and would benefit from additional educational and tutor/mentor services like RTSB’s Experience Corps Small Group Tutoring program.
These children are often reacting to situations beyond their control and they need support, encouragement and positive role models. We need to give our children tools for success and reward their accomplishments, rather than criminalize their shortcomings.
Children can benefit from role models from all walks of life but it is especially effective when they have role models who can relate to their life’s challenges. Every tutor in the RTSB Experience Corps is trying to make a positive difference but there is an unmet need for male tutors, particularly men of color.
The little things like seeing the children’s excitement when they answer a question correctly or get through reading a lengthy passage is all the motivation I need to keep coming back. There’s no better feeling than working with the children and seeing the light go on when they understand something they’ve been struggling with. These children fulfill something inside of me that I knew needed fulfillment. Childhood literacy is not an easy issue to tackle, but if my work can help at least one child get on the right track, then it’s worth it.
As an Experience Corps volunteer, we aren’t just teaching these children how to read, we’re helping them understand life, making them better communicators and instilling a confidence in them that, along with a positive attitude, they can accomplish anything.
My story is just one among countless others. One person can’t do it alone, but if we all come together to advance our children, we have the opportunity to help make our young people in Buffalo the best anywhere.
Brent Rollins is a volunteer tutor with Read to Succeed Buffalo’s Experience Corps tutoring program, sponsored by the AARP Foundation.