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By Allison Jarrell

On a recent Monday afternoon, a seemingly shy second-grader scurried up to his new reading tutor.

Joshua Pineda smiled as he took a seat across from Wallis Wallis, a volunteer from San Juan Capistrano, who couldn’t help but reflect the boy’s excitement.

Wallis broke the ice with a couple questions about Pineda’s day at school—“Were you kind to somebody today?” “What kind of kindness did you show?”

“When someone fell down, I helped them up,” Pineda said.

Wallis praised Pineda for his sympathetic actions, and the second-grader glowed with pride.

Pineda is one of over 100 students who will benefit from the knowledge, mentoring and friendship of senior reading tutors thanks to a new pilot program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley that launched Oct. 16.

Parentis Health Foundation, based in Laguna Hills, is the newest host agency of Experience Corps, AARP Foundation’s intergenerational volunteer-based tutoring program. In Orange County, Parentis Health Foundation is working in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley to bring three Experience Corps sites to San Juan Capistrano, Aliso Viejo, and Rancho Santa Margarita.

Bringing the program to the Capistrano Valley area was the brainchild of Boys & Girls Clubs’ board members Tarek El Nabli, Janice Frechette-Artinger and Karen Banse.

Frechette-Artinger, who serves as the club’s resource development chair, said El Nabli, the founder and CEO of Parentis Health, has always been focused on senior advocacy in the community, so when the two of them came across the AARP Experience Corps program, they knew it was the perfect fit—a win-win for both seniors and youth.

Unsurprisingly, the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Executive Director James Littlejohn and Area Director Nicole Watson agreed that the program would fit well with the clubs’ focus on academic success.

“From birth to third grade, you’re learning to read,” Frechette-Artinger said. “From fourth grade on, you have to read to learn. So those children who haven’t figured out the fundamentals of reading by the time they hit fourth grade, they’re still trying to catch up with the basics.”

In order to get young students on the same page, and in an effort to develop the next generation of avid readers, 37 trained tutors are now meeting with over 100 kindergarten through third-grade students twice a week at the Boys & Girls Clubs for 30-minute sessions of reading, literacy games and bonding over books. Working with just one or two students at a time, tutors focus on developing reading fluency skills through repetition and practice.

At the other 22 AARP Foundation Experience Corps program locations nationwide, data shows that in a single school year, students in kindergarten through third grade who worked one-to-one with tutors achieved more than 60 percent greater gains in critical literacy skills than their peers who were not served by the program.

Watson, who oversees all three club branches, said the clubs’ more than 60 programs focus on academic success, health and life skills, and character and leadership. But she said this new tutoring program is especially helpful for their students who can enjoy bonding with seniors while improving their literacy.

Watson added that she’s already seen a lot of excitement about the program from the clubs’ families, with kids and parents eagerly awaiting their session in the halls of the club.

“You see that a lot of times in sports leagues—the parents come out and watch their kids from the sidelines,” Watson said. “You don’t see that a whole lot when it comes to academics—the parent waiting for their kid to go in and do a reading session.”

Karen Banse, a board member who also works as the program’s volunteer recruitment director, noted that the students aren’t the only ones excited about the program.

“We have 16 people on the waiting list to be a tutor,” Banse smiled. “Some have been with us since early May waiting for this program to start.”

“We know that the kids needed it, but we have a population of volunteers that were calling daily, starving for this,” Frechette-Artinger added.

Banse—who networked with area cities, libraries and community centers to recruit tutors—said their volunteers range in age from 50 to 83, with the average of 68 years old. Banse said a large part of the appeal for seniors is the structure and organization of the tutor program—they received over 20 hours of training—and the added bonus of being able to take time off.

“They’re having a great time with the kids, and the children are really enjoying them,” Banse said. “The tutors are going to make a huge difference in the kids’ lives.”

Littlejohn said he expects the new program will help exponentially with the clubs’ goal of getting students to the eighth grade level, through high school, and achieving success after graduation.

“It’s about planting the seed,” Littlejohn said.

“When a kid doesn’t read well or do math well, their self-confidence is going to be low throughout their entire life,” Watson added. “But when you empower a kid with education, that’s something you can never take away from them. That’s really what we want to do—provide kids as much education and resources as we can to give them that fighting chance to be successful in life.”


GET INVOLVED

To learn more about becoming a tutor/mentor volunteer, contact Karen Banse at 949.244.1560 or karen.banse@parentishealth.com. Those interested in becoming part of the Parentis Health Foundation Board of Directors can contact Janice Frechette-Artinger at 949.767.7503 or email janice.frechette@parentishealth.com.

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