Seventy-seven-year-old Claire Litton sits reading with Walnut Hill Elementary School student Sergei Greenlee.
Sergei, 11, moved to Dallas from Russia with his family a couple of years ago. When he has trouble pronouncing the occasional word, Litton helps him. Occasionally they pause to talk about where he lived near the Black Sea or about the two Russian boys his family is preparing to adopt.
This exchange is typical between volunteers in Senior Source’s Off Our Rockers program and their young charges. People with decades of experience sit down with kids who have been identified by their teachers as someone who could profit emotionally and educationally from weekly interaction with an older adult – and they talk or read books or work on math problems.
“The kids really benefit from the attention and love the adults in this program are able to give them,” says Suzanna Swanson, director of the program.
Off Our Rockers has 230 volunteers in 80 schools in 10 districts, but they’re looking to add at least 70 more.
“There is such a great need,” Swanson says.
Volunteers must be at least 50 years old and, in most cases, be able to drive themselves to and from a school. They work with kindergartners through third-graders, focusing on tutoring or mentoring. The minimum time investment is one hour a week.
“It gives them a way to go back to society. To know they’re making a difference in the life of a child that will affect them for the rest of their lives,” Swanson says. “I think that’s really powerful.”
Litton agrees. She wanted to be a teacher, but didn’t have the money to go to college, she says. Off Our Rockers has given her a way, late in life, to fulfil that dream. She’s been coming to the school for a number of years now – “it’s been at least seven,” she says – spending her Thursdays there.
Litton, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years and raised four children of her own, loves the work so much she has tried to recruit others.
“I’ve managed to recruit one fellow,” she says. “And he loves it too.”
Asked why she thinks other seniors should look into it, she says, with good humor: “Because I think playing bridge more than once a week is too much. People can do better things with their time.”
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