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December 5, 2007

Robert and Que Payne: Making an Everlasting Impact

Experience Corps members mentor Hamden elementary school students

Que and Robert (Bob) Payne are in their 70’s and live in Hamden. Que has been retired for seven years; Bob retired two years ago. They were both surprised at how little free time retirement has provided them. Originally they had thoughts of traveling together after Bob finally retired from Yale-New Haven Hospital after 32 years of service. But between their grandchildren, church, activities at the senior center and the two teams Bob bowls on, life was full. Still they felt something was missing.

When a family friend told them about Experience Corps, a program that engages people over 55 to help elementary school students improve their reading skills, it sounded like exactly what they were looking for. So they attended an informational session but left the meeting feeling unsure about whether this opportunity was right for them.

“It was a big commitment...15 hours a week for a year. We’re older folks you know. We’re not sure that we’d always be physically able to do that. What if we were sick or if the weather was bad or if we were just plain tired? We have to think about things like that.” said Que.

Think about it they did. It was a significant commitment on their part, but eventually they decided Experience Corps was the right activity for them. Explained Que, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be doing this. I only pray my health holds out. I look forward to getting up in the morning and getting out of the house. I’m not so focused on myself anymore. I’m not thinking about my health declining or growing older anymore.”

Bob is also enjoys seeing the kids. “They know who I am. They see me coming and shout, Mr. Payne! Mr. Payne! They noticed I shaved off my goatee before anyone else did!” In the beginning, Bob was a little hesitant about the idea of mentoring. He worried that his academic skills were a little rusty, but after the first day, realized the skills are secondary. “I had a boy who was not interested in math because he couldn’t read the instructions. I went over the instructions with him word by word, explaining each problem. The teacher doesn’t always have the time to do that. I have the time and the patience. When I was able to give that time to him, he was able to get it.”

Shared Que, "There was a little girl; she’s in the second grade. The reason the teacher had me work with her one-on-one is because the little girl is very quiet. They do a sharing time on Monday morning where the teacher puts them in little groups and they tell what their weekends were like. Apparently this little girl never shared. Her teacher thought that being with me one-on-one, maybe she would be more comfortable sharing.

I introduced myself and told her a little about me. Then I asked her a couple of questions. She kind of nodded. The minute I hit on, “Do you have any siblings?” she began to tell me how her mom is pregnant and how her mom is going to have this baby in four days and how she is so looking forward to having this little brother, how the nursery is all set, and how her mother moved her into another room and that it’s a bigger room and she got to say what color she wanted this room to be (purple.) We talked and talked about this gift of a baby brother until time was up.

When I brought her back, the teacher asked how things went. She said, “She didn’t talk at all, did she?” “Oh, yeah!” I said, “She talked a lot! She told me all about her baby brother and her favorite color and everything!” Now the teacher had more insight into something that she could talk about with her.

It’s really been a two way street. I feel like I get a whole lot more than I could give out. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard a successful individual say that a neighborhood person, or a teacher, or a mentor, said something or did something that made a change in them. You’re not just working with a child today. You’ve making an impact that could be everlasting.”

Experience Corps - Greater New Haven is a program that recruits, trains and places teams of older adults as tutors to students in grades K-3 in elementary schools. Experience Corps members work an average of 12-20 hours per week helping students to improve their reading and writing skills, working with small groups, in the classroom, and one-on-one. Training and supervision are provided. AmeriCorps stipends are available: $1500 per year for those who commit to serve 300 hours or $2500 for those who commit to serve 450 hours over the course of the year.

Experience Corps - Greater New Haven is a partnership between the Agency on Aging of South Central CT and United Way of Greater New Haven, in collaboration with Hamden Public Schools. This project is supported by the Connecticut Commission on National and Community Service, a partnership of the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps) and the Connecticut Department of Higher Education. For more information please visit www.agencyonaging-scc.org

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