Extra funding to boost school volunteer effort

Program helps senior citizens stay in touch in city classrooms


News from around the Baltimore region

September 01, 2005|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

When Sylvia Lane-Gibson retired in 1999 after a 32-year career at Bell Atlantic, the Johnston Square resident quickly got active in a new residents' association in her East Baltimore neighborhood.

But community organizing was not enough for the 61-year-old woman who was determined to make a difference. So last year, she joined Experience Corps, a national program that places older people as paid volunteers in public schools. Under Baltimore's version, more than 100 senior citizens like Lane-Gibson volunteer in six elementary schools.

"The kids keep you on your toes," said Lane-Gibson, who volunteers as a computer lab assistant at Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School for about $2,500 a year. Yesterday city, state and nonprofit leaders gathered at Dallas F. Nicholas to announce the program is doubling in size in volunteers and schools thanks to additional funding from the city, state and other sources.

Linda P. Fried, director of the Center on Aging and Health at the Johns Hopkins University and a co-founder of Experience Corps, said the new funding would also double the 52,000 hours of volunteer work that seniors logged last year. The effort has been beneficial to students as well as seniors, who have demonstrated improved health from their participation, Fried said.

The city announced yesterday that it would allocate $250,000 to Experience Corps, a collaboration of Hopkins, the Greater Homewood Community Corp. and AmeriCorps, the program's primary funder. The state is giving $260,000. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is also contributing $1 million over the next three years.

That money comes in addition to grants from AmeriCorps, the Abell Foundation and the France-Merrick Foundation.

O'Malley said at the news conference that the presence of the senior citizens in schools is "incalculably important to our kids' success."

He said their life experiences, "their heart," and their "presence" in schools helps create a stabilizing atmosphere for students.

Lane-Gibson agrees. She has two grandchildren who attend the school where she volunteers.

"They know that grandmom was here," she said. "So they know not to act up."

Senior citizens who want to participate in Experience Corps should contact the Greater Homewood Community Corp. at 410-261-3500.

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