For me, this day was a commencement of sorts, the beginning of a process to open the doors to some of my retiree neighbors which will give them rewarding experiences and unforeseen joys. Little did I know seven years ago that I was beginning the experiential education journey.
I retired in March 2010, sold my home and moved to Willow Valley Communities for the independent-living lifestyle and the promise of health care for life. But, now, what was I to do every day? What was my new purpose in life? How could I find something new and meaningful to make me want to get up in the morning and put a swing in my step?
I was asked to take over a leadership role being vacated by a 91-year-old Willow Valley resident who was retiring from the volunteer post after eleven years in service. After accepting the role of volunteer coordinator at a local inner-city elementary school, I immersed myself in learning the ropes of being a classroom volunteer as well as the person recruiting other volunteers. We shared classroom experiences and did our best to help these youngsters who never asked to be born into poverty but had to deal with the consequences of single-parent households, incarcerated family members, or sleeping with two other siblings in a second-hand twin bed. These kids are so happy to get one-on-one attention, to have someone read to them, or help them understand the math they missed the day before. Very quickly I realized that I loved this new challenge.
Simultaneously, I volunteered in a local soup kitchen which served breakfast five days a week to needy families, no questions asked. Over time, I noticed that some of these same people frequented the elementary school to see their grandchildren perform in a school concert or pick them up after school. Then I started seeing these same people on the sidewalks in Lancaster city as I drove to church, or the mall or to the school. We all live in the same community!
I began wondering why more people who are retired aren’t helping the needy. Part of it is because they don’t know where their help is needed, or what help is needed. Or they’re afraid to drive into a bad neighborhood, or they don’t know where to park, or what door to enter, or who to see.
In November 2016, CEO of Willow Valley Communities, John Swanson and I met to discuss his plans for a more formalized community partnership with the School District of Lancaster, and he asked me if I would lead the effort.
After doing God’s work for seven years, how could I say no? I gave him a proposed plan in December. We started a music-mentoring pilot in March while the other planning was under development.
Recently we held the official launch of the SDoL Partnership with over fifty people in attendance to hear Superintendent Rau speak passionately about the challenges of educating kids in poverty, followed by Music For Everyone CEO John Gerdy talk about importance of music in childhood development and his commitment to provide instruments to every child where we find a passionate instructor. For me, this event was the commencement, the beginning of something new and potentially fulfilling for others.
I didn’t grow up in this county, but I retired in this county. This is where I want to leave my legacy, doing everything I can to help those kids get what I took for granted when I was growing up.
By Ross Fairweather, Willow Valley Communities Resident