Senior citizen volunteers forge special bond with these kids

Bethlehem resident Jack Burke thinks that every senior citizen should spend time volunteering in their neighborhood school. 

And that’s not just because he is a retired Bethlehem Area School District teacher and principal.

There’s a natural connection between senior citizens and children that reaps dividends for young and old, the 86-year-old said while sitting at Moravian Village one day last week.

“Keeping your mind going and being active, it gives you longevity,” Burke said. “Things like this pick you up.”

Burke and his wife, Patricia, are part of a group of roughly 20 Moravian Village residents who volunteer as reading buddies twice a month at nearby Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. The partnership is part of the retirement community’s JOY — Joining Older and Younger — program, which seeks to pair retirees with the young.

“It’s sharing of wisdom, it’s sharing of skills,” said Sue Lorenzetti, Moravian Village’s director of life enrichment.

Homemade caramel corn now popping on Main Street (PHOTOS)

The Bethlehem Education Association is honoring the JOY readers for volunteerism on May 4 at its 2017 Friends of Education dinner.

Two times each month, Moravian Village buses the volunteers to the school where they read with three different second-grade students in rotating one-on-one sessions. The school tries to pair the kids with the same buddy each week, so bonds can develop.

Then a few times a year, like on Friday, Moravian Village hosts the entire second grade for a day of themed special activities. In a nod to Earth Day, Friday’s theme was “honoring the worth of the Earth” with a special presentation from Hawk Mountain and a craft activity where kids painted pandas.

Then the students got to each lunch at Moravian Village, which is often a highlight of the visits.

The program has roots to 2013 when Carole Schachter, who is now the district’s supervisor for English-as-a-Second-Language, was teaching at Thomas Jefferson. She realized that reading with someone was one of the best ways for her students to become fluent in English.

Both of her parents were living at Moravian Village then, and Jack Burke kept saying they should be partnering with the school. So Schachter turned to the retirees for help.

“We got so many volunteers we added a whole grade level,” Schachter said. “They have become very attached over the years.”

Second-grader Brian Washington, 8, said he liked when his reading buddy would suggest to bring back the same book.

“I have fun reading,” he said as he painted a panda Friday.

Another student, Jacob Nievens, 8, said he liked when his reading buddy would help him when he had a trouble with a word. They always encouraged him to bring another book.

The students benefit from the individual attention, said Patricia Burke, who was…

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