Cindy Etter is one of RSVP’s* newer volunteers, starting volunteering about two years ago after retiring from a long career as an educator. With a degree in Special Education in grades K-12, Cindy lived in France for a year as an undergraduate, and lived and taught English in Spain for two years as a post graduate. She believes that these experiences helped her prepare for her chosen career.
Her professional career for a number of years was as an ESL Instructor at the University of Washington with foreign students who, in order to pursue their education goals, had to improve their English language skills.
Upon retirement, Cindy felt she wanted to work with young children in a way that would support their development. While contacting RSVP for some guidance, she learned about volunteer opportunities at the First Place School, a private nonprofit school located in Seattle’s Central District.
First Place was founded in 1989 to serve families who were homeless and living in transitional quarters while awaiting permanent housing. The numbers of children living in these unstable and substandard conditions were quite large, and it was felt that traditional public schools were unable to meet their special needs.
Cindy volunteers one day a week in a class for kindergartners as a tutor and a mentor. She sees her role as one of support for both the teacher and the students. Her tasks can vary depending on the immediate needs in the classroom. As the second adult in the classroom, she also sees herself as being there to encourage and guide the students. She enjoys this opportunity, sensing that the children welcome her presence. And, as a white person in a mixed racial environment, she hopes that she is another bridge between races.
When asked why she volunteers, Cindy said, “We all know that the future is in our children – all children. The needs are great, and working in the schools is about as important as it gets for the future. Almost every public school has a significant number of children experiencing housing insecurity. I feel that I can make a small difference in a few lives by spending time with young children facing difficult experiences.”
Cindy was kind enough to meet me in my home, and our conversation was so interesting that we spent more than the usual length of time in conversation. We speculated about several influences in our backgrounds that we had in common, leading us to involvement in service roles. It is likely that this applies to many others who volunteer and is worth reflecting on for all who engage in service to individuals and their community.