Volunteer and make a difference in a child’s life

For the past three years, I've had the privilege of being retired. The first few months were a transitional time, when, as my family describes it, "I returned to the nest." I had time for more conversations with my siblings, texts with my nieces and nephews and visits with my 87-year-old father.

Like most retirees, after a few months of reconnecting with family, having coffee with friends and reading as many books each week as I could muster, I realized I wanted to somehow contribute to my hometown community in Colorado Springs. So guess what — the workaholic became the volunteer. I found my new passion for this next part of my life in going out and serving others, knowing that my only paycheck would be the feeling of contribution I felt when I was serving.

My two "new jobs" were carefully selected. I had lost a friend to cancer years ago and watched the positive impact hospice had on her journey. I became a hospice volunteer at the in-patient unit for Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. I worked alongside the nurses and certified nursing assistants, helping in any little way I could those who were taking their final life's journey. Sometimes it was feeding a patient Jell-O or holding his or her hand. To that patient and his or her family, these gestures mattered.

On another day of the week, I volunteered in a first-grade classroom at a school where I had served earlier in my career as principal. I sat in tiny chairs and read with young people in one of my former teacher's classroom. The kids' comments and funny stories gave me a look from a different perspective at students and our schools. After three years in retirement, my volunteer adventures helped me find my niche.

As we start this school year, our schools are looking for volunteers who want to make a difference. Are you one of them? Our elementary schools continue to need individuals to sit alongside kids and read or listen to them read a story. We have middle and high school students who need mentors in math, science and many other subjects. Do you have a unique talent that you would like to reignite and share with our students?

Two important Eagle County Schools programs seek participants at this time of year: Insider's Academy and AVID.
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Now in its fifth year, Insider's Academy provides community members with an opportunity to learn about our district and dive deep into understanding our strategic plan, curriculum and instruction strategies and operations. The goal of Insider's Academy is to encourage all community members to become advocates for our schools and learn where their skills and experience may be most helpful. New for this year, we're offering this program as a full-day single session on Saturday, Oct. 21. If you've always wanted to see behind the magic of education, then this is the day for you. Space is limited, so visit http://www.eagle schools.net/insiders for more information.

AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination — is a program offered in our middle and high schools dedicated to closing the achievement gap by preparing all students for college and other postsecondary opportunities. We look for volunteers willing to help support the students in their classwork in all grades. Contact the school office to learn more about the needs at a particular school.

Many of our community partners also need volunteers to support their work with students. The Parent Mentors Program through YouthPower365 seeks parents of children enrolled in our schools to become regular volunteers with classroom teachers for the entire school year. Parent Mentors support students in early literacy, social and emotional skills and other classroom activities.

This year, YouthPower365 is introducing a new college and career readiness mentoring program for sixth graders. Mentors will work with students during the first week of each month, October through May. For more information, visit http://www.youthpower365.org. Your involvement sends a powerful message to all our students that you are here to watch them succeed.

At the end of my time in Eagle County, I'll return to my retirement life and my volunteer jobs. I'll take the memories of the valley home with me, and they will become stories to share with the patients I serve once more at the hospice unit. The first-graders I read with will remind me of the great kids I met in Eagle County. I can tell you firsthand that the unexpected happenings in the lives of volunteers give us purpose and joy.

Maggie Lopez, Ph.D., is the interim superintendent of Eagle County Schools. She can be reached at margarita.lopez@eagleschools.net.