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Volunteers give back through work with students

Kathy and Ron Howard volunteered at Banfield Elementary School helping students in first-grade classes with basic skills such as reading, writing or math, through the Senior Corps. Common Good RSVP program. Jenae Hackensmith/jenae.hackensmith@austindailyherald.com

Kathy and Ron Howard volunteered at Banfield Elementary School helping students in first-grade classes with basic skills such as reading, writing or math, through the Senior Corps. Common Good RSVP program. Jenae Hackensmith/jenae.hackensmith@austindailyherald.com

Kathy and Ron Howards combined their love of giving back to the community with their love for children when they started volunteering with Senior Corps., Common Good Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP.

“I would just say, we love children,” Kathy said. “We have six granddaughters, they don’t live here. We miss them and this kind of helps with our ‘kid fix.’ And really it’s such a blessing, we often times shed tears throughout the day just because of how much we are blessed.”

The Howards, both 68, volunteer at Banfield Elementary School, each in their own first-grade classroom. They come for one hour every Tuesday and work on basic skills with the students, such as reading or math. Both are retired, though Ron works with the Seibel Center and Kathy works a few hours a week as a financial conservator for the county.

“I also read with individuals and sometimes really good readers and sometimes not so good readers,” Kathy said. “I guess the part I love about it the most are the ones that say ‘I can’t read’ and I really like to spend time saying, ‘Yeah you can read.’ And I think the extra encouragement that they get, it does make a difference.”

Ron agreed, and said they work not only with students struggling in a specific area but with all the students.

“For me, I spend time just reading, and have the kids read to me,” Ron said. “And it’s not only the kids that need help but just all the kids have had turns setting aside and getting special time reading, and just getting some feedback from somebody. It’s a good chance to get to know the kids and help them out a little bit if I can.

Ron Howard accepts an award recognizing his volunteer work at Banfield Elementary School on April 5.

Ron Howard accepts an award recognizing his volunteer work at Banfield Elementary School on April 5.

“If the words aren’t too big,” he joked. “That’s why we do first grade. Second grade might be too hard.”

Kathy said it’s nice that the students are excited to see the volunteers each week.

“They like you! That’s really cool, isn’t it Ron?” she said to her husband with a laugh. “They’re just happy to see you.”

Gema Alvarado, success coach at Banfield, said the volunteer work is not lost on the children, who are excited to see the volunteers each week.

“The reason why it’s so important is because we have a lot of students who don’t have the academic support at home, or the teachers have over 20 students and some of the students need more individualized attention,” she said. “And this give the opportunity for those teachers to provide that support to those students.”

She said all the volunteer work is impactful, but simply providing a new face for the student’s support system is a good thing.

“We’re just really grateful to have this program here at Banfield and we hope to continue it for many years to come,” Alvarado said.

The volunteer work isn’t only about seeing the children for the Howards, though, as Kathy and Ron enjoy giving back to their community.

Kathy Howard accept an award recognizing her volunteer work at Banfield Elementary School on April 5.

Kathy Howard accepts an award recognizing her volunteer work at Banfield Elementary School on April 5.

“It gives you a good feeling,” Ron said. “For me, I’ve lived in Austin pretty much my whole life but when I was working I didn’t have a lot of time to do any volunteer work, and I like to try to give back to the community.”

This is their first year volunteering through the program, but they don’t see stopping anytime soon.

“This is our first year, this turned out to be an enjoyable thing for us,” Ron said.

“It is so rewarding, it’s just a true blessing,” Kathy added. “I think just being around kids is so good for us.”

The Howards also volunteer through their church.

Other local programs that have RSVP volunteer opportunities include Hot Meals on Wheels Inc.; The Salvation Army food shelf, community meal server, Back Pack Program; Freeborn/Mower Habitat For Humanity build site, Restore and Brush with Kindness Program; Mower County Seniors, Inc., volunteer driver, respite, office assistant, chore assistant; Banfield, Southgate and Neveln Elementary Schools, K-6 grade classroom assistant/tutor; Semcac Meals on Wheels, meal deliverer. Contact Regional RSVP Coordinator Michael Maas for more information at 507-450-1518 or mmaas@ccwinona.org.