It has been said that the best way to learn is to teach. What exactly will you learn: about the subject at hand, about the learning process, about yourself? Probably all three. And don't forget the warm fuzzies: that glow you get from giving back to the constantly recycling education pool.
If you look, you'll find more than enough opportunities to pass on your experience and skills. For all the things people want and need to learn, there has to be someone to teach them. Take an inventory of all the things you know how to do, and you just might be surprised. It doesn't have to be a big production with lesson plans and chalkboards --- or it can be, if that's what you want.
A good place to find volunteer tutoring opportunities is through the Community Wishbook (www.communitywishbook.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 225-4226) where nonprofits list all the things and services their big, kind hearts desire. Or, if you have a passion, say playing the accordion, you can try offering your special talent to organizations you think might be lacking in it. Following is a short list of organizations and the types of tutoring opportunities out there.
Compeer pairs up volunteers with mentally ill children and adults. In addition to one-on-one mentoring, which usually involves fun outings like sporting events or movies, Compeer also has a program called Skillbuilders, where community members can come in and teach a life skill. It's a temporary commitment of about six weeks, and you can teach anything: how to cook a meal, balance a checkbook, change a tire.
"A lot of times people don't have the day-to-day skills to succeed," says Sue Tessoni, director of internal operations at the Rochester Compeer office. What volunteers with Compeer give to the clients, Tessoni explains, "is what we get from our friends."
Think of all the things you read during the course of your day, and imagine if all that text was substituted with code. How would you do your job, drive a car, fill out a form, or take medication? As a tutor with Literacy Volunteers of America, you can be assured that you are helping teach a crucial skill. While it may seem like a daunting task to teach someone to read, or to teach English as a Second Language, according to Melissa Woodhams, case coordinator at Literacy Volunteers' Rochester office, most tutors are not professional teachers.
Nor do ESL teachers have to be bilingual. In the interest of conducting lessons completely in English, "it actually works out better if someone doesn't speak the person's original language," she says. "ESL tutors are usually people who like to travel, and can understand the vulnerability one feels not speaking the language."
What you can teach with Literacy Volunteers: basic reading or English as a Second Language. Training: a thorough 28-hour training period that covers learning styles, how to make a lesson plan, and how to track progress. Commitment: two hours a week for one year. Requirements: tutors must be 18 years old and have their high school diploma or GED equivalency. Contact: 249 Highland Avenue, 473-3030, www.literacyrochester.org.
The goal at Wilson Commencement Park is to help low-income single parents become self-sufficient. To help with that goal, volunteers can either work one-on-one with kids in the facility's Early Learning Center, or they can work with adults in evening education programs or as mentors. The approach, says Josette Campana, volunteer coordinator, "is very hands-on, very grassroots. You have, so give to someone who may not." You can mentor residents and give advice on getting and keeping a job. Or you can volunteer to teach an evening education program on anything from parenting skills, to making good choices in relationships, to conflict resolution.
"It's a way to show 'I made it, so can you,'" Campana says. "It gives the family a sense of hope and 'wow, somebody cares.' It's momentum and motivation."
What you can teach at Wilson Commencement Park: parenting, financial, job, or general life skills. Commitment: ongoing for mentors, temporary for evening education tutors. Requirements: none. Contact: 251 Joseph Avenue, 263-7930, www.wilsoncommencementpark.org.
Nena Siverd, employment specialist at the Veterans Outreach Center, is putting together a mentoring program for the veterans and their families that her office serves. Right now she is in need of volunteers who can teach basic math, blueprint reading, and computer skills. In the future she envisions her fledgling program expanding, with volunteers teaching English and business skills to individuals or small groups.
What you can teach at Veterans Outreach: math, blueprint reading, computers. Commitment: ongoing. Requirements: none. Contact: 427 South Avenue, 546-4250.
"If someone really has something to teach," says Karen Platt, "that's something we never have enough of." Platt is operations manager at Operation Friendship, a social clubhouse for adults with mental illness. The club is open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch, and, Monday through Thursday, dinner. Over 500 members come and go, socialize or don't, but there is always the opportunity for them to participate in recreational and social activities or vocational workshops. And guess who leads those programs? You got it: volunteer tutors.
People can lead any kind of group or one-on-one session, and teach whatever knowledge, skill, or experience they'd like. One woman recently started teaching the club's first yoga class, and it's catching on with the members.
"As long as someone is comfortable coming in and working in a diverse population and being open-minded," they can teach something, Platt says.
What you can teach at Operation Friendship: whatever you have to offer. Training: an orientation and some reading to take home. Commitment: variable. Requirements: willingness and an open mind. Contact: 160 Mount Hope Avenue, 473-9027.
At the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester you have to go through the tutoring center to get to the basketball court. Or to the foosball, or to the arts projects. For any club member between the ages of 6 and 12, the first stop after school is for homework.
"If they said they didn't get any homework or they already finished it, we give them something to do," says Bobbi Mindy, assistant executive director. Most volunteers in the tutoring center are college students or retirees. But the only requirement is "the personality to come in and work with kids," Mindy says, "and patience. Patience is what we ask for above all."
The tutoring center --- which is in the process of getting a new library for their reading program --- is in need of volunteers every day after school, but especially on Fridays, when kids can sign up for one-on-one tutoring time. Mindy says that it is mostly teens who sign up for the individual slots, for help on a particular subject or assignment. Algebra wasn't that hard, was it?
What you can teach at the Boys and Girls Club: school subjects for kids and teens. Training: orientation. Commitment: ongoing. Requirements: willingness and patience to work with kids, and "consistency," says Mindy. "If someone says they're going to volunteer every Monday, the kids look for that person on Monday." Contact:500 Genesee Street, 328-3077.
Last year the tutoring center at East House helped 530 adults recovering from mental illness and chemical dependency. By the end of the year, 40 percent of those adults were working and 32 percent were in school or training. You can be a part of this success.
"Our saying is 'You'll find hope at East House,'" says Arlene Bullers, director of development and community relations, "anyone who wants to be a part of that philosophy would be welcome."
What you can teach at East House: reading, math, computers. Training: brief training so people "know what to expect." Commitment: one hour a week for as long as you like. Requirements: 18 years old and "a caring heart." Contact: 53 Canterbury Road, 473-3360, email@example.com.