Retired seniors become familiar faces at Medford School

By ANNA SEGNER, County Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2015 • Steele County Times

Twelve senior citizens visit Medford School once or twice a week. After signing in at the office, the volunteers go to their classrooms and begin assisting the teacher, carrying out one on one tutoring sessions or just talking with the students. Medford started the Retired and Senior Volunteer (RSVP) program last year, and already it
has been deemed a success. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program is a way for seniors to connect with the youth and the youth to learn from the experienced individuals. It started as a way to gain more community involvement, and it has grown into so much more.

“They’re a part of the school now. The kids that had them in class last year will see them in the hall this year and say ‘hey’,” said Elementary School Principal Mark Ristau. “To see the smiles on the students and the seniors faces. It’s a win-win! “Any time we can get another adult with a student, it is good for them to gain new insights
and perspectives,” said Ristau. “We thought this was a nice avenue
to involve folks that support the school.”

Fifth-grade teacher Malia Norton has George Sierakowski as a volunteer through the program. Norton said that Sierakowski has a “rich history” as he was in the army and is a professional artist. “The kids are completely fascinated by George. They just light up when he walks through the door. I mean, they could listen to him all day,” said Norton. “The kids just wait for Wednesdays because it means that George is coming.”

Like other seniors, George has built relationships with students as he helps them with math or reading. “It is really good for the kid’s self-esteem. He makes students feel valued, and they definitely have a reciprocal relationship,” said Norton. “It helps me out a lot too, since I don’t always have as much time for one-on-ones with students.”

The 12 volunteers are primarily assigned to K-5 classrooms. However, there is one volunteer in the English Learner’s classroom, which is technically K-12. Each volunteer spends two to three hours in a classroom per week. Some come twice a week, while others come once for a longer period of time. Ristau said that most volunteers
have connections with Medford or have grandchildren in the school. One of the volunteers, Carol Steinbauer, was actually the school nurse for many years and is now in retirement. “These volunteers certainly are not getting rich doing this,” said Ristau. “They’re coming because they want to, so it has worked out well.” Ristau said that the Medford school is certainly proud of the program and its success. “It has been a good program,” he said. “I’m definitely glad that we followed through with it a year ago.”

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program is facilitated by Catholic Charities. With various grants, Catholic Charities is able to provide supplemental insurance coverage for seniors while volunteering and cover mileage reimbursement through the Senior Corps program. RSVP is one of the three volunteer programs of the Senior Corps. The other two programs are foster grandparents and senior companions. RSVP tasks are vast and fit the need of the community, such as organizing neighborhood watch programs, tutoring and mentoring disadvantaged or disabled youth, renovating homes, teaching English to immigrants and
assisting victims of natural disasters.

“Seniors bring a wealth of experience to classrooms. They do provide a small role of mentoring, but it works both ways; volunteers get as much out of it as students do,” said Michael Maas. “Our volunteers bring a lot of value to the schools and organization.” Catholic Charities Regional Program Coordinator Maas said that there are senior corps volunteers helping in schools in Medford, Owatonna and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva (NRHEG). Maas covers Steele, Rice, Dodge, Mower and Fillmore counties. In Steele County alone, Maas estimated that there are about 55 seniors volunteering in the schools. Nationally, over 40,000 seniors volunteer through one of the RSVP branches. He visits each school at least once a week to get that “personal contact with both parties: the school and the volunteers.” “We want to make sure everything is running as smoothly as possible,” said Maas. “Then I get to meet the volunteers or school faculty and hear their stories too.”

If interested in giving back to the community by becoming a senior volunteer at Medford school, contact Maas at 507-450-1518 or email mmaas@ccwinona.org.

-Jennifer Halberg