Volunteers in Everybody Wins program enjoy being mentors

A grandparent or senior can share wisdom and wide experiences of the world with a child. And children have lessons to teach their elder caregivers as well. 
The Everybody Wins program connects youngsters with volunteer reading buddies who help them learn how to read and love books. The volunteers can be any age, but they are very often seniors who have some extra time and want to connect with area kids. 
Here several volunteers talk about their experience with Everybody Wins.
“It’s very rewarding for me to see both the students and the mentors get excited about the time they spend together during their reading sessions,” says Everybody Wins director at Bridport Central School Tim Franklin.
Franklin says that their program relies heavily on senior volunteers, coordinated through the United Way of Addison County, a local book club, the Bridport senior meals club and the Congregational Church.
“I think it’s nice for seniors who may have lost touch with the local school after their kids or grandkids passed through to have a new reason to engage with the schools that they still support through taxes and community attention. It gives them an opportunity to keep in touch,” Franklin says.
The Bridport Everybody Wins program is new this year and Franklin says the program is off to a good start. “We are prioritizing first- and second-graders at this point and will fill in with other demands as we find more volunteers,” he says. The goal for the first year was to find 20 volunteers for Bridport’s program. With 11 or 12 volunteers now, that leaves openings to fill and space for the program to grow.
“Kids love the undivided attention from adults and really look forward to the time they spend with their reading mentors,” Franklin says.
Teresa Churchill has been volunteering with Mary Hogan’s Everybody Wins program since 2004 when her niece communicated the need for reading volunteers at the school. The first student that Churchill mentored graduated from high school this past June. Churchill has kept a scrapbook over the years, compiling photos and letters from each of the children she has mentored.
“I love the program, just love it,” Churchill says. “I’ve gotten the nicest children — they’re bright and just wonderful. I look forward to it every Wednesday!”
Churchill also volunteers at Porter Hospital and has been able to recruit a few of her friends and co-volunteers at the hospital to join Everybody Wins. “You get to the age where you’re looking for something fun to do,” Churchill says, “and if you like children this is a great option. It’s just an informal, lovely time spent with students.
“My heart and soul is really into this and it has been since the first day I went in.”
Abi Sessions is the program director for Everybody Wins at Salisbury Community School. She started the program in 2011 when the United Way of Addison County was looking to extend this program into more local schools. Sessions had previously worked with Everybody Wins at the Sustainability Academy in Burlington and was excited to help start up the program after seeing how successful it was at that school.
The Salisbury program has 20 active mentor/student pairs and is looking to continue growing and matching kids with reading mentors. Sessions says that more and more kids are interested in signing up with a literacy mentor, which is great to see.
“It’s so uplifting to come into the library during lunchtime and hear this happy buzz of older folks and younger folks reading together. Everyone is smiling in that room, having a wonderful time,” she says. Even folks not involved in the program directly can tell that there’s something really special going on in that room, Sessions says.
As with several of the Everybody Wins programs, many of the volunteers in Salisbury are into retirement, meaning volunteers are at a similar stage of life.
“There’s a wonderful camaraderie that has developed between volunteers in this group,” Sessions says, that was an unexpected bonus. “The friendships that have evolved between mentors have been wonderful to watch.”
One of the best parts about Everybody Wins is that the concept is very simple, Sessions explains. “It’s easy to set up and it has a big impact,” she says. “The teachers love it, the kids love it, the mentors love it — everybody really does win!”

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