RSVP Rutland County Reads (RSVP) makes creative use of seniors and other members of the community to work with local schoolchildren. These volunteers read to children and share their acquired wisdom with them to the benefit of both. It’s difficult for us to resist a mentoring program that’s doing such good work, and so we were pleased to award a small grant to this organization, by way of showing our support. We spoke to RSVP Program Coordinator and Program Coordinator for the RSVP Rutland County Reads Program Maryesa White to learn more about the work of the program and its dedicated volunteers:
Kars4Kids: RSVP consists of programs run by volunteers aged 55 and above. Can you describe some of the benefits of utilizing the talents of these more senior volunteers?
Maryesa White: It is true that many of our volunteers that participate in our programs are 55 years old and older. We even have some volunteers that are under 55 years of age in some of our programs. Both age groups come with knowledge. When it comes to the volunteers that are 55 years old and older many of them are retired. With being retired many volunteers have a wide range of different work and life experiences that they can pass along to the growing youth in our community. Our younger generation of volunteers bring many new age experiences to the table especially when it comes to helping programs with technology. This has been a major help with the outbreak of COVID-19 this past year.
Kars4Kids: There is no minimum number of hours required of RSVP volunteers. Can you tell us about both ends of the spectrum—the shortest and the longest span of time that volunteers currently serve in your Rutland County Reads program?
Maryesa White: Some volunteer positions do have a time requirement that is specific to the volunteer position but we do not require volunteers to do a certain amount of volunteer hours. Most volunteers when they agree to a volunteer position they will work out a volunteer work schedule with the site/program for which they are volunteering. We have had volunteers who volunteer for special events, volunteers who volunteer on a monthly basis, some on a weekly basis, some every few days and others on a daily basis. Most of our daily volunteers are working on projects at home for our programs. We have volunteers who choose to volunteer on a short-term basis and others who have been volunteering in some of our programs for over 30 years.
The pandemic has changed some of our volunteer opportunities with still others on hold. The biggest change has been that many volunteer programs have shifted to a remote-base volunteer program or a minimal in-person contact volunteer program. This is the safest way for volunteers to still be involved with their volunteer programs while still abiding by the guidelines and regulations that our state has put in place with COVID-19
Kars4Kids: RSVP began operations in 1971. Was the Rutland County Reads program instituted at that time? What is the longest run for a volunteer serving in this program?
Maryesa White: The RSVP Rutland County Reads Program was launched in 1997. In general we have had many different readers over the years. Most of our current readers have been with the program for a few years now. When it comes to RSVP we have some volunteers that have been with us for over 30 years.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about the children—the demographic you serve through the Rutland County Reads program.
Maryesa White: When it comes to the demographics of the children that we serve through RSVP Rutland County Reads, we have to look at this from a county-wide aspect. The reason for this is that we have readers throughout the county at many different public schools. Over the years we have had readers in preschools, afterschool programs, and summer programs, and have also had readers in assisted-living homes with students brought there to listen to stories. When it comes to the poverty level in Rutland County, we have approximately 10.4% of our residents living in poverty. Keep in mind that Rutland County has 28 different towns. That means that some towns in our county may have higher or lower poverty levels than others.
Kars4Kids: Rutland County Reads is a program that takes place during regular school hours. How many schools and students are taking part in this program? How many volunteers?
Maryesa White: This is a hard question to answer because of the pandemic. If we weren’t currently in the middle of a pandemic our numbers would be different than they are at present. With the stress of the pandemic many schools are not participating in the program at all this year. Almost all the schools will not allow volunteers inside their buildings because of COVID-19, and when it comes to remote learning this is a whole new challenge for our schools as well as many of our volunteers.
This year we have 5 teachers participating in our program on a remote basis, since volunteers are not allowed in the classrooms. With these 5 classrooms we are serving about 100 kids. We have 4 volunteers participating this year and we are always looking for new volunteers who might want to participate in our program.
Kars4Kids: Your website states: “Classroom Volunteers read to, share life experiences, [story-tell], or provide enrichment activities in elementary classrooms.” It’s easy to understand why reading to students, telling stories, and providing enrichment activities might motivate children to read. How does the sharing of volunteers’ life experiences help children to connect to reading?
Maryesa White: Volunteers share their life experiences through their own personal experiences, and this, along with the stories they choose to read, helps them connect with the children they are serving. The children, in turn, are better able, through these personalized experiences, to connect with their classroom volunteer reader. Having volunteers talk about their experiences through the stories they choose can spark a child’s interest and will hopefully make them want to learn more through reading more.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for RSVP Rutland County Reads?
Maryesa White: We are hoping to be able to return to a school-based program for the school year 2021 to 2022, but that still depends on the status of COVID-19 and the resultant regulations. We would like to expand the number of classrooms and students we serve. We also plan to continue our remote program for those who cannot be physically present for classroom reading. With our anticipated expansion we hope to have even more volunteers working with our program. Gaining more volunteers will allow us to serve more schools across the Rutland County area.