Helen Coons, a resident of CentraState’s Applewood senior living community, never gets tired of hearing children call her “Miss Helen.”
A former school librarian and administrator, Helen (pictured second from right), 88, has been volunteering at the Freehold Learning Center for the last two years through Applewood’s Tools 4 Schools program. Each Wednesday morning, eight Applewood volunteers take a bus to the center to provide hands-on classroom support for teachers and students in pre-K through first grade.
Joan Cinque, manager of resident services at Applewood, said the program developed out of the senior living community’s philosophy of engaged living that incorporates activities to stimulate the mind, body, and spirit of its residents.
Through the partnership with the Freehold Borough-based school, students visit Applewood to decorate the windows for Halloween, eat lunch with the volunteers, and provide a talent show for residents, while the seniors help students—many of whom are learning English as their second language—hone their reading and writing skills. In addition, Applewood sponsors a school supply drive every August, collecting donations of backpacks and school supplies. Joan uses monetary donations to purchase boys’ and girls’ school uniforms in a variety of sizes.
“Several of the residents involved with the program are retired educators, so it’s a great opportunity for them to assist teachers in the classroom and form relationships with the kids,” says Joan.
“Some of the students just turned 5 years old, so school is a new experience for them,” explains Helen, who works with the school’s reading consultant to develop classroom activities. “Having additional one-on-one support is particularly important at that age.”