AARP Foundation Experience Corps volunteer Linda Fong writes about tutoring young students from the Sacramento City Unified School District in California through the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center.

I was a civil engineer. I was, and still am, proud to have succeeded as an engineer at a time when there were very few women in the field. I remember times in college when I was the only woman in classroom and work situations where I had to continually prove myself to my predominantly male colleagues. Despite my success, the job was stressful, requiring more than 40 hours per week. On top of that, I was also a mother who often didn’t make it to the end of her to-do list. This meant that self-care was not an option for me. So, I promised myself that after retirement, I would commit to taking care of myself.

After retiring, I reflected on my life so far – how my parents gave up everything when they left their homeland to immigrate to the United States from China. How they had limited opportunities to earn a living for us, but they still made sacrifices so that we could assimilate. How they made this possible while overcoming language barriers and cultural differences.

Having seen the struggles of non-English speakers grow, it was obvious that a good education offered better opportunities. I’ve become even more passionate about equal education because I believe that’s what really levels the playing field, no matter where you’re from or what socio-economic class your family is associated with. That’s when I decided to spend my time giving back to my community in a meaningful way. I wanted to encourage and support children who deserved equal opportunities.

I joined AARP Foundation Body of Experience as a volunteer tutor with the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center to help develop children’s reading skills. The program was a perfect fit for me, as I believe that better reading comprehension will help students build self-confidence, give them more opportunities in academia, lead them to a better future, and ultimately , will enable them to become productive members of our communities. The icing on the cake is that I feel a sense of accomplishment watching these students improve.

It is a joy to see my students realize that they can read well and achieve our fluency goals. When their confidence increases, it’s so fun to watch them blossom and strive for more. What is even more meaningful is knowing that I have created a connection with this future generation. I know that children today have mental and social difficulties. From my time with students, I know this is very real and can be debilitating. I’m glad our program is tackling these issues, especially with nationwide training focused on what to look for and helpful tips on how to deal with them. I appreciate how personal care for us volunteers and students is also a national training priority.

That’s why I’m confident that Experience Corps students will continue to strive for excellence throughout this challenging time. I am grateful to them for the time they spend with me and for the precious gift that volunteering gives me. Every day of volunteering reminds me of how very different things could have been for me if others hadn’t helped my family when we first emigrated.

Things could have been much worse for us, but we got through it thanks to the kindness and encouragement of our community. Now it’s my turn to return kindness through service.

Linda Fong is an AARP Foundation Experience Corps Returning Volunteer Tutor with the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center which serves the Sacramento City Unified School District in California. Working to encourage young readers is quite different from Linda’s engineering career, which included developing large and small transportation projects with the California Department of Transportation. Most notable was the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge replacement work after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Retirement from his professional job has given him time to explore other opportunities and interests, including bicycling, hiking, reading as many books from the local public library as possible and, of course, trying to pass on this love of reading to his students through his volunteer work. . His essay first appeared on the AmericaCorps Blog and is reproduced here with permission.

About the AARP Foundation Experience Corps

AARP Foundation Body of Experience is a community volunteer program that allows people over the age of 50 to serve as tutors to help students become better readers by the end of third grade. It’s a proven “triple win” that helps students succeed, older adults thrive, and communities grow stronger.

The program ensures volunteer success through extensive training, peer networks and ongoing assessment. Experience Corps uses a structured, evidence-based model that improves students’ overall reading ability by building fluency, accuracy, and comprehension skills.

Experience Corps and other AARP Foundation programs are partnered with AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps Senior and AmeriCorps VISTA members serve with the programs to focus on results, inspiring volunteers to disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of America’s most vulnerable children.

Learn more about AmeriCorps Seniors programs across the country.

Volunteer with Experience Corps

Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope and about the volunteers who give so much to help others.