Sharp as a Tack is Sharp as a GrandInvolve Volunteer

By Business and Community Partnerships
February 24, 2021

“You do have to be on your toes,” says Alison Niedbala, a GrandInvolve volunteer working with second graders who attend Washington Mill Elementary School.  She must be on her toes because there’s a sizeable age difference between Niedbala and the young learner she works with.  “Luckily I have a great relationship with staff, and everyone has been really willing to work with me," she adds.

Alison is a 2020-21 GrandInvolve virtual volunteer whose exact age we shall not share.  It’s a fact however, that she’s over 50 because GrandInvolve, born of Fairfax County’s 50+ committee, works solely with that demographic–bringing retired seniors in search of meaningful volunteer opportunities into the classrooms of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Title I elementary schools.

What began in 2014 at Crestwood Elementary School with a handful of volunteers and teachers, has now blossomed into a well-established and award-winning program.  A program appreciated by FCPS principals and teachers alike, including Ms. Ganesh, a teacher from Clearview Elementary, who says "I have to say, I'm so thrilled with what's happening with GrandInvolve in my classroom.  This is like a dream come true." 

While socially distanced/virtual tutoring has slowed the program’s growth a bit, it’s not for lack of effort.  GrandInvolve in fact, has volunteers ready and waiting. They wait as FCPS works with families to secure parental permission slips, slowed by the pandemic and sometimes language barriers. Other volunteers wait because FCPS requires the presence of badged employee in virtual sessions, employees already engrossed in the changes and challenges of their own work or because students expressed concerns over additional “screen time.”

Nonetheless, 11 schools in FCPS are currently welcoming GrandInvolve volunteers. Volunteers that GrandInvolve founder Dorothy Keenan lauds for demonstrating acute nimbleness and commitment, “I am extremely proud of the volunteers who have come forward this year to volunteer virtually. Our volunteers have exhibited a great amount of patience while awaiting placement. The experience is challenging, and they have proved to be resilient and enthusiastic, always considering the needs of our students and the demands of safety and security."

Pre-pandemic, GrandInvolve supported two dozen participating schools with nearly 200 volunteers.  With no paid staff, volunteers continue to be the core of their program at every level, including administratively and operationally.

Existing talents.  New talents.  Talents yet to be discovered.  For staying sharp is clearly a strategic and endeavor. Thank you GrandInvolve.

“Don’t get older just to get wiser. If you get older, you will be wiser, I believe that – if you dare. But get older because it’s fun!”  
- Maya Angelou