GrandInvolve poised for expansion in local Title I schools
Ever since age 12, Dorothy (Dot) Keenan has enjoyed working with older adults. Until her retirement 13 years ago, Keenan served as the supervisor of senior services for Fairfax County, overseeing the operations of 13 senior centers. After retiring, county officials asked her to serve on a committee whose purpose was to figure out how to make Fairfax more livable for all ages — especially for retirees.
Keenan, who was volunteering at the time in one of her grandchildren’s school classrooms, came up with the idea of an intergenerational program encouraging older adults to volunteer in classrooms. Specifically, the adults would volunteer at Fairfax County Public Schools’ Title I schools, which qualify for need-based funding to help close educational achievement gaps. Hence, GrandInvolve was born.
Now in its ninth year, GrandInvolve is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization whose classroom volunteers spend an hour or more per week playing games or conducting exercises with small groups of elementary school children, helping them with math or listening to them read. Both the teachers and students look forward to the volunteers showing up, often reacting in excitement.
“When teachers saw me, they’d start to dance,” said Keenan. “Then students would start to clap and say, ‘I want to be with Miss Dot!’”
The children tend to pose a lot of questions to the older-generation volunteers, said Keenan. Occasionally the kids even learn to better understand what they’ve been taught during the school day.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, GrandInvolve had about 164 volunteers working in classrooms at 24 Title I schools, most of which are culturally diverse and located in the Mount Vernon and Franconia Magisterial Districts. They also had around 40 to 45 leadership volunteers who serve as liaisons between classroom volunteers and the schools. During the pandemic, the nonprofit lost around half of its volunteer team, largely due to concerns about visiting classrooms in-person. For a time, the organization shifted to virtual volunteering; then, during the 2021-2022 academic year, they started up in-person services again at a handful of schools. This year, they boosted their presence to 25 schools.
Since GrandInvolve doesn’t receive any county funding, the organization is reliant on outside donations. This past spring, Burke and Herbert Bank selected GrandInvolve as the beneficiary of its “Scores for Kids campaign,” in partnership with the Washington Capitals. On May 24, the bank presented the nonprofit with a check for $27,500, which will enable it to implement a marketing and volunteer recruitment plan to meet its long-term goals of placing 10 volunteers in each partner school and gradually expanding the program to other schools.
To prepare for that expansion, GrandInvolve is starting to restore its volunteer force. Around 30 people attended a recent information session. Once individuals submit a volunteer interest form on GrandInvolve’s website, they go through a background check paid for by the county. Volunteers — who don’t need special knowledge or background experience — can choose which of the 25 schools they want to work at and attend an orientation program and other trainings.
The flexibility of GrandInvolve’s program differentiates it from the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) school tutoring program known as the AARP Foundation Experience Corps, said Keenan. “We’re much more flexible, especially with work times,” she said, noting that AARP’s program has a minimum five-hour per week service requirement.
No matter how few or how many hours GrandInvolve volunteers work, they all benefit from the experience of building intergenerational relationships and being able to share their unique talents and resources with the community.
“Volunteering helps older persons’ overall wellness and provides them with purpose in life,” Keenan said.
Members of the community who are interested in learning more about what it’s like to be a volunteer and the activities involved can visit the GrandInvolve website.