Mar 092004
 
Authors: Jason Kosena

Charlotte Bigelow always wanted to be a kindergarten

teacher.

But Bigelow, who is now 80 years old, would never see her dream

recognized.

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

write-off.

“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,

Kainer said.

“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

said.

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

total.

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

tax purposes.

“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

Bigelow.

“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.”

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