Finding Purpose in Teaching Kids

Six months after retiring from her position as an administrator at a Jamaica Plain early education program, 70-year-old Lorna Backas was restless. “I just couldn’t stay home anymore so I applied for a volunteer position reading to kids,” said Lorna. “Everything changed from there.”


Lorna is now a team leader for Jumpstart Boston’s Community Corps, which includes 100 older adults from communities across Boston including South Boston, Roxbury, Mattapan and Jamaica Plain. Jumpstart trains these older adult volunteers to work with more than 200 preschool children from low-income neighborhoods. The Community Corps program is in eight Boston-area preschools and expanded to communities in Lawrence and Lowell in 2013.

The mission of Jumpstart, a national organization, is to ensure every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Community Corps members are paired with up to three children at a Jumpstart partner preschool and work one-on-one and in groups to build the child’s language, literacy and social skills.

But, it’s not just the children who benefit. Community Corps members have reported improvements in their physical and mental health due to course training; traveling to and from the schools; and building meaningful relationships with kids, teachers, parents and each other. Of those surveyed, nearly all said the program kept their minds active, increased their level of physical activity and helped them to be more self-confident.


Sheila Jones, who’s been with the Community Corps for five years, elaborated, “The children ask us how we know so much or they tell us we’re the best Community Corps members ever. It makes us feel special.”

In addition, program directors have found that older adult volunteers connect more easily with the children’s family members and teachers. “Many have previous experience working with children, or have raised their own kids, and are comfortable offering their wisdom to parents and caregivers,” said Anne Liu, a senior community manager with Jumpstart Boston.


Willie Wideman-Pleasants, age 62, agrees, “We often have teachers tell us that they’ve learned a lot from what we’re doing with the kids,” she said.

“It’s a real sense of community,” said Janet Getchell, a Community Corps team leader in South Boston. “I love when a parent tells me I’ve helped their child learn their letters or spell their name. I know I’m making a difference.”

This story was published originally in the Tufts Health Plan Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report.

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