Senior citizens reach out to youngsters Friendships span the generations

February 17, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Bill Moore and David Markin have formed a mutual admiration society.

At least 50 years separate the retired C&P district manager and the eighth-grade sports fanatic, but that distance vanishes when the two get together.

Mr. Moore tells war stories and shares newspaper clippings. David is fascinated. David talks about soccer and shares dreams. Mr. Moore is encouraged.

A few months ago Bill Moore and David Markin didn't know one another. Now they're friends. They're also one of the early successes of a fledgling Baltimore County volunteer program that matches senior citizens with middle school students who might be slightly lost in the transitions of those between-years.

Senior Adult Friends of Education, or SAFE, is the brainchild of two Pikesville residents: Myrna Goldberger, a teacher for more than 40 years, and her first cousin, Stanley Plaine, who has organized numerous volunteer projects since he retired from the retail shoe business 12 years ago.

"I've taught every grade level," said Mrs. Goldberger. "The child who falls between the cracks is the middle school child. If he is prone toward lack of organization and teen problems, this is where it shows up."

Mrs. Goldberger's remedy is to team these youngsters with "wonderfully knowledgeable, vital seniors" who might share some life lessons, answer questions, make suggestions, but most all, listen in a nonjudgmental, nonauthoritarian way. Since September, Mrs. Goldberger and Mr. Plaine have introduced SAFE to four county middle schools.

More than 50 volunteers are working at Franklin, Dumbarton, Ridgely and Pikesville middle schools. Programs are being planned for Dundalk, Woodlawn and Middle River middle schools, say the organizers.

Each senior citizen is paired with a student. They meet once a week for an hour during the school day, just to chat. "Love of a child is the only prerequisite," says Mr. Plaine. And the commitment of time.

"It's up to you what you talk about," Mr. Plaine tells volunteers. "The lack of structure is what makes it good; you can be a grandparent . . . or an adviser to someone who has questions."

The volunteer's role is not to be a tutor, though school is a natural subject. "We try very hard to avoid focusing on schoolwork," says Jerry Sheinbach, a Dumbarton volunteer paired with a sixth-grade boy. "We're careful not to be intrusive. I've tried to interest him in reading, but you do it in an oblique way.

"He likes to talk about skateboarding and movies. This past week I mostly listened," adds Mr. Sheinbach, who lives in Towson and also works with an adult literacy program.

"Every time we meet we talk about new stuff," says David Markin of his chats with Mr. Moore, a World War II Navy fighter pilot. "I'm fascinated by war. He tells me war stories. I tell him about my sports."

They also talk about David's grades and his classroom behavior, both of which have improved, he says, since he's known Mr. Moore. "I love talking in class. I don't like getting bad grades. I know I have the ability to bring in all B's and C's," and that's his goal for the third quarter, he says.

Over the longer range, David says, he wants to play soccer in high school and "go to a really good college." He and Mr. Moore talk about these things, too.

Seymour Wingrat and Alex Talbert talk about their hobbies. Dr. Wingrat, a retired optometrist, enjoys painting and sculpting. Alex likes lacrosse, karate and rocketry. "We talk about current events and what we'd like to do," says Dr. Wingrat, one of the first SAFE volunteers at Franklin. "It's sort of like being a pal with Alex."

When Alex got his second-quarter report card recently, his grades were good enough to put him on the honor roll -- the first time in his middle-school career.

Although Dr. Wingrat and Alex say they "hit it off right away," some pairs were slow getting acquainted. "The first three or four weeks, says Mr. Sheinbach, "I did most of the talking." Not every pair is a match. Jeanne Macon was disappointed when the girl to whom she was assigned at Franklin decided after a few meetings that she didn't want to be in the program. "She just wasn't interested. I think the counselor sort of talked her into it," says the retired Milford Mill High School secretary.

Teachers and guidance counselors select the students, and a child cannot participate without parental approval.

At Dumbarton, in Rodgers Forge, principal Lynn Hoffman asked children to sign up for a "grandparent." Several did. That school now has 12 SAFE volunteers and a waiting list for more.

"It's a wonderful program," says Mrs. Hoffman.

"It's so good for the children who have that relationship -- a caring person who is not judging that child."

At Franklin, guidance counselor David Bearr says "we really wish we could have one [volunteer] for everybody."

Mrs. Goldberger and Mr. Plaine hope eventually to have a SAFE program in each of the county's 25 middle schools.

Older adults interested in volunteering for SAFE may call 486-5870 or 486-1978.

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