Charlotte Bigelow always wanted to be a kindergarten
But Bigelow, who is now 80 years old, would never see her dream
She became a loan officer at a bank in Pennsylvania, while her
brother was the one in her family to attend college.
“I spent many, many years working at a bank,” Bigelow said.
However, a volunteer program available through the Poudre School
District has given Bigelow a second chance at teaching – at least
for a couple hours a day.
Bigelow, who spends every morning volunteering at Laurel
Elementary School in Fort Collins, working with kindergarteners and
first graders, is one of 128 senior Fort Collins residents who are
volunteering their time to work with children in the PSD for a tax
“Our senior volunteers are some best volunteers we have. They’re
reliable and the teachers love working with them,” said Cathy
Kainer, aspecialist with the PSD Partnership and Volunteer Program.
“We also know that anytime a caring adult is in the lives of
students it helps these kids. It is key to their academic success
and we don’t want to see any child slip through the cracks.”
PSD’s Tax Work-off Program has been around for several years,
and it is of great benefit to many Fort Collins senior citizens,
“At Poudre School District we felt it was important to get
seniors into the classrooms and the schools and also we feel it
gives our students a mentor,” she said.
The district accomplished both goals by setting aside a general
fund for the program out of the annual PSD budget.
The only requirements an individual must meet in order to
participate in the program are to have a current residence within
the Poudre School District boundary lines, be older than 65 and
have an ability to pass the background check all school employees
and volunteers are subjected to (see sidebar).
“Some of our Tax Work-offs are former teachers, and others just
like working with the kids,” Kainer said.
Although the desire to work with kids is important to the
program, PSD has set up the Tax Work-off Program to allow seniors
of all types to participate.
“If they don’t want to work with the kids, we can find things
for them to do in the kitchen or in (the partnership and volunteer
office) with us,” Kainer said.
Kainer said there is a waiting list of seniors who want to get
involved in the program, but because there is only so much funding
available, not everyone who wants to participate can.
“We have limited space and people who do participate in the
program get used to that money coming in, so we see a lot of people
stick around,” Kainer said.
Every August, the district sends out a survey to the current
program volunteers asking them if they want to participate in the
program again. After all the responses come back, the district
fills the empty positions with seniors on the list, Kainer
The seniors are paid $6 an hour for their volunteer work in the
schools. They can work up to 80 hours per year, or $480.00
The check they receive is made out to both the individual and to
Larimer County, Kainer said.
By making the check payable to both the senior and the county,
the school district is ensuring the money is going to be used for
“Some of our seniors really rely on that check of $480.00 to
keep them in their home, and so we are happy to be able to help
them out in this way,” Kainer said.
For Bigelow, a Fort Collins resident, the ability to work with
the children is the most important part to her.
“I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, but I had to go
to business school because my brother went to college. I eventually
became a loan officer at a bank in Pennsylvania,” Bigelow said.
In her third year of the program, Bigelow said she has no plans
of quitting any time soon.
“It keeps my motor running. I love it. I absolutely love it. I
mostly have the children read for me in the hallway or in the
library and I also grade some papers for the teachers. I love doing
it,” she said.
The participation of seniors like Bigelow in the schools is very
helpful to the staff and the students, said Debbie Graff, a
first-grade teacher at Laurel Elementary School who works with
“She is 80 years old and she didn’t work in teaching before and
she still is in here every single day. If it’s snowing, she is
still here,” Graff said. “I’m just amazed that anybody would
volunteer so much of their time to volunteer work. She’ll do
anything we ask her to.”
Bigelow is dedicated to the program and to volunteering. Even
after she exceeds the 80 hours allotted under the Tax Write-off
program, she continues to come in everyday, Graff said.
“I think that she is a lifelong learner and that is an important
goal everyone should strive for,” she said.
Bigelow spends most of her volunteer time reading to children
and having the children read to her. This back-and-forth is
advantageous for the students, Graff said.
“It’s probably the most important thing she can do with her
time. Reading to the children is so important, but listening to the
children read to her is probably the most important aspect of
learning anyone could do for a child,” Graff said.
Along with the educational advantages Graff sees accompanying
Bigelow’s volunteer time, she also sees another positive role with
Bigelow in the classroom.
“She is a great role model. She is so caring of all of them and
it’s so important that the children can feel the touch of an older
person’s life,” Graff said. “A lot of the children don’t know the
touch of a grandparent.”
Kainer agreed that the senior citizen volunteers serve a special
role in the schools.
“They give our students a mentor, a perspective on life that
some of (the students) may not be able to get anywhere else,” she
said. “It is also advantageous for the seniors. It helps them stay
alert by getting them out of the house.”
As for Bigelow, the opportunity to volunteer and work with kids
is a saving grace.
“I have no plans to stop my work here. I take my vacation in the
summer and I love it. If I didn’t have (volunteering) I don’t know
what I would do.”