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June 26, 2007

Nick DiGioia- Experience Corps Member

As one of the first members of Experience Corps in Greater New Haven, Nick DiGioia has found that he can reach kids who have trouble reading by providing them with the individual attention they need. Nick has a professional background in the private sector as well as the U.S. government, where he held a number of managerial positions in the Defense Contract Management Agency.

During his 28 plus years with the U.S. government, Nick was assigned to Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Sikorsky Aircraft, and Hamilton Sundstran, providing management oversight of Defense Department contracts. After spending four years in retirement, Nick’s wife suggested that he become more active in the community. When Experience Corps launched in Hamden elementary schools, the school district each of his children attended, and the town his family resided in for about thirty years, Nick felt a connection.

“You can’t solve a lot of complex problems as an adult unless you know how to properly communicate and express yourself,” said Nick. “I think reading and writing are extremely important in all aspects of life, especially from a career and management perspective.”

One example of the level of improvement that can occur through the Experience Corps program is exemplified in this story:

There was this one boy who was obviously uninterested and always slouched when he came in to the session. Rather than force him to start reading, I knew I had to think of a way to get him to open up first. Unlike most of the other students, he seemed down and out. He began to open up a little when I asked him what he liked to do, what his favorite sport was, and where he was from. The next time we met, we talked about football, basketball, and his family.

We began to form a bond and he realized that I was there to help him learn to read. The next time we met, we talked about what he did over the weekend, football, the Super Bowl, etc. We started to relate to each other. He discovered that the sessions weren’t a form of detention. When I came in for the next session, I asked him to get his pencil to begin the day’s assignment. He returned to the table, sat up straight and attentively, for the first time since I had been working with him, and said “Okay, what do we do?!” I know it might not seem like much, but for him to show interest in learning was a milestone.

“You can make these kids feel good and you can reach some of them,” said Nick. “If you can reach one, then that is one that wouldn’t have been able to read as well before.”

Experience Corps of Greater New Haven is a volunteer initiative that engages older Americans, ages 55+, and utilizes their wisdom and professional experience to tutor elementary school children, grades K-3, in the subjects of reading and writing. Tutors receive training and then begin working with students in the classroom, in small groups, and one-on-one. The program was brought to Greater New Haven by the United Way of Greater New Haven and the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut and launched in February 2007 at two schools in Hamden. An expansion to all eight Hamden elementary schools is planned for September 2007.

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