By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Her granddaughters are nearly 8,000 miles away, living in Thailand, but Brigitte Timmons connects with them weekly for online story time. Saturday evening here is Sunday morning there. They’ve read books like Whoopi Goldberg’s “Sugar Plum Ballerinas,” “Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History” by Vashti Harrison, “John Henry: An American Legend” and “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats.
“It’s our routine,” Timmons says of Skyping with the three girls, ages 10, 7 and 5.
The local senior also shares the joy of reading with other children, closer to home. She retired in February 2019 and in October 2019, began volunteering as a reading tutor through Experience Corp, an AARP-funded program that worked with area school districts. A resident of Antelope, Timmons was first placed at Dudley Elementary School in the Center School District. She tutored children three at a time for two hours at a time, twice a week on Monday and Wednesdays.
“I would do that until the pandemic kicked in and had to transition from in the classroom training to virtual,” she said.
Distance learning took a toll on many school children, especially those in the most need of help.
“The children’s attention spans are very reduced,” Timmons said. “They’re struggling with being in a structured environment again and they’re finding that the children are very impatient with just the common things that you have to do like take your turn or wait your turn. They’re just not used to having to do that.”
The students are assessed on their reading levels before being placed with volunteers.
“The gist of the whole literacy program is to introduce the children to reading by using different reading games,” Timmons shared.
She’s happy to see them gain confidence along the way.
“It’s so amazing. Children are just so delightful; they start up very shy and maybe a little bit reserved when you first start working with them, then they get comfortable with you, then they want to show off, then they want to lose interest. You run the gamut of personalities and their experiences, but our task is to make it fun and to keep them on point. “
Timmons has experience dealing with varied personalities. She worked for AT&T for 40 years as a human resource manager. She began volunteering while at AT&T. The United Way helped link employees to various volunteer opportunities. Timmons raised money for the March of Dimes and its work with premature babies. She also joined a network of Black employees to raise funds for college scholarships and back-to-school supplies for younger children.
The literacy tutoring was a no brainer for her.
“That was an easy one,” she said. “I’ve always loved reading. That’s one of my major loves in life and to be able to share that love with the children was such an opportunity.”
Personally, the retiree loves stories full of romance and espionage. Give her a good whodunit and she’s a happy woman.
Timmons developed a love of reading early on and considers getting her own library card as a child to be a rite of passage.
“My mother and father really believed in a library card,” she said. “I was one of five children and we tracked to the library like little ducks in a row all through grade school. It was always a delight to be able to pick out a book to take home and read.”
Growing up, she says, it was rare to see her without a book. She then passed along the importance of reading to her own two sons.
“I always made sure that they had books available to them and we would read together. It was just natural to be able to take that love and share it with the children,” she said.
Through her training, the local senior is given books to download to work with students. The books have gotten the OK from her son, who is very particular about what her granddaughters read and are exposed to in general.
“He loves that I have this arsenal of nonfiction books at my disposal of which he considers approved readings. I always read a book with the girls and they love it,” she shared.
Timmons is currently in training, through Book Nook and United Way California Capital Region’s Students and Tutors Achieving Reading Success (STARS) program to begin with a new set of students next month.
“We know that if kids aren’t reading at grade level by fourth grade, they will have a hard time keeping up across multiple subjects for years to come,” said Amber Lovett, who had been serving as interim president and CEO of United Way California Capital Region.
“Our STARS volunteers make a world of difference in a child’s life by giving just one hour a week. Our tutors not only help them read, they act as positive role models that improve children’s overall confidence in school,” Lovett said.STARS is looking for more local volunteers to teach students. For information, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org/STARS.