From Friend to Teacher and Back

The friendship started when Esther, (a volunteer in Sherburne County) came to RSVP staff after experiencing some dramatic life changes which had caused her to step away from active volunteer service. She was interested in finding a new volunteer opportunity that matched her changed life.

Based on Esther’s patient, soft-spoken manner and the close proximity of Esther’s new home to a neighborhood-based adult day service provider in Elk River, RSVP staff started the search for a custom made volunteer opportunity there. Rosie Becker, Director of Angels on Main Adult Day Services, is extremely creative, dedicated to her mission, and convinced of the positive impact volunteers have on program participants. After speaking with a participant named Lena and Lena’s family, Rosie wondered if Esther would be a visitor to Lena to explore the potential for Lena to reach a goal she had held for a long time - to be able to write her name. Esther drew on her experience as a retired Speech/Language Clinician and agreed to partner with Lena in the challenge.

After the pair’s first visit, Rosie emailed RSVP, “It went wonderful! The ladies worked well together, accomplishing more in this first 40 minute session than ever anticipated! Esther was very affirming and Lena was so proud. “ It took only a few more visits and Lena was able to write her name! The two agreed to keep meeting and Esther formed a plan to move on to the alphabet.

After six months passed, RSVP heard that Esther and Lena were on to early reader books and paid a visit to one of their learning sessions. Their visit was full of patience, effort, attention, repetition and hugs. There were big smiles after Lena concentrated intently to read the sentence, “Look at that rat.”

Esther proclaimed of her student, “Lena is the most eager student I’ve ever had. She wants to learn. She is a marvel!”

Lena says of her accomplishments, “It felt good to write my name. I’m not a quitter!” Lena’s family is very proud of her. Her mother, sister and niece help her with her word flash card homework that Esther creates for her to practice at home.

After all these months, Lena recently revealed to the rest of the clients at Angels on Main the true mission of these bi-weekly visits. “I finally told all of them that this is my teacher, not just my friend. All of them are proud of me.”

The going is slow, but steady. Esther is very encouraging. Lena is very eager. Who knows what will come next from this friendship!

-Charlotte Strei