PHOTO: Reading Buddies volunteer team for Atlantic Highlands: Back row, l-r : Cathy Flag, John Talerico, Mary Meagher & Judy Braverman. Front row, l-r: Susan Halle, Ellen Levine and Doris Irwin. 

LONG BRANCH, NJ – Family & Children’s Service (FCS), whose mission is to serve people at vulnerable times in their lives through education, intervention, care and counseling, marked National Senior Corps Week, May 5th through the 11th, by highlighting the extraordinary contributions of its senior volunteers and encouraging other seniors to become involved.

“So many retired seniors are seeking meaningful ways to contribute to their communities,” says FCS CEO Delly Beekman, herself a lifelong volunteer. “Nonprofits like ours benefit tremendously when we tap into the expertise and skills retired seniors developed throughout their careers. It’s a winning combination for everyone.”

As the sole administrator of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) for Monmouth County, FCS matches some 500 seniors annually with area nonprofits to help fill various needs, from assisting in hospitals, to managing food pantries, to delivering meals to the homebound. One of the largest such programs, FCS’s Reading Buddies, links nearly 200 adult volunteers with more than 1,200 elementary-aged students in 17 underserved public schools. Reading Buddies volunteers must commit to read to the same small group of students for one hour each week for the entire school year. The only in-school shared reading program of its kind in the county, Reading Buddies is designed to foster literacy and build confidence in young readers, but it often creates bonds that extend beyond the classroom.

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Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean in residency at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
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PHOTO: Reading Buddy Volunteer Doris Irwin

 “I have celebrated birthdays and holidays with these children and asked after them when they are sick.” says Judy Braverman, who is completing her first full year as a Reading Buddy volunteer. “I really feel as though they have become a part of my family.”

Reading Buddy Mary Meagher agrees.  “You really become attached to the children. By the time the last session comes, you are so surprised that it’s the end!”

Mary and Judy are part of a team of eight volunteer readers at Atlantic Highlands Elementary School who recently demonstrated just how much they care about the young students they read to each week.  When the team learned that funding for the Reading Buddies free book give-away had been cut this year putting the program on hold, they took it upon themselves to find a solution.  Collaborating with the school’s teachers, they redeemed each classroom’s Scholastic Book points to purchase books and then contributed their own money to make up the deficit.  On their final reading day of the year, the volunteers presented their students with 90 new books – one for every kindergarten and first-grade student.

“We wanted to do something to encourage them to keep reading and help them remember us over the summer months,” team leader Cathy Flag said. “They are such well behaved children. They deserved something special.”ahes_rsvp_3

PHOTO: Reading Buddy Volunteer Judy Braverman 

The volunteers didn’t go away empty-handed either. The students made cards and presents to give to their new friends, who they will likely see in the hallways when they return next year, and for many years after that.

“I have seen a lot of children come through here since I started reading,” recalls Doris Irwin, who has been a Reading Buddy at Highlands since the program’s inception in 1998. “Many of them are now in college.”  When asked whether she intends to return next year, Doris replied, “Of course! The money is good.”

In fact, last year RSVP volunteers in Monmouth County contributed more than 55,000 hours in service to area nonprofits. If calculated in real dollars, their donated time added up to more than $1.5 million dollars.

If you are interested in becoming a RSVP volunteer or would like more information about senior volunteer opportunities in your community, visit our website at www.fcsmonmouth.org, or call the agency at 732-222-9111. 

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...