When Sylvia Shiroyama retired two years ago, she didn’t have a plan beyond a strong belief that a healthy retirement is an active retirement. So, at the urging of her insurance provider, she attended a senior fair for volunteer opportunities hosted by RSVP* and sponsored by Premera. After considering the options, she decided to get involved with RSVP sites Reading Partners and CourtWatch.
Reading Partners teams up with under-resourced schools to provide well-trained volunteers to work one-to-one with students struggling with reading. Volunteers follow a research-based and proven curriculum that Sylvia describes as “stellar” and meet with their students twice a week for 45 minutes.
This is Sylvia’s second year in the program. Last year she worked with a 3rd grader who was 6 months behind in reading proficiency. By the end of the year, she brought her student up to grade level. Very satisfying.
This year’s student is a 1st grader. In a moment of recruiting fervor, Sylvia also pointed out that there are more students in need than volunteers available (hint, hint).
What the volunteer brings to the program is human relations skills. Reading Partners tries to match students with volunteers and, Sylvia says, the personal relationship formed between student and volunteer is a key motivator in a student’s success. And, she adds, success breeds confidence and confidence breeds more success.
Maya, the site coordinator at the elementary school where Sylvia volunteers, can attest to the advances and self-assurance students have made under her guidance. She has this to say about Sylvia: “Sylvia gives her all. We are extraordinarily lucky to have her, and so are her students. Last year, Sylvia developed a wonderful bond with a 3rd grader, who still asks about her to this day.
“This year, Sylvia is working with a 1st grader who, thanks to her tutelage, is quickly approaching grade level in reading. With her background in math and the sciences, Sylvia is an expert at engaging students with books on dynamic STEM subjects – distant planets, fascinating animals, dramatic weather patterns – and shows her students that reading is essential for any subject area.”
Sylvia also finds time to volunteer at CourtWatch, a program under the auspices of King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. She was drawn to CourtWatch by her interest in how the judicial system works. CourtWatch volunteers unobtrusively observe trials related to sexual assault and child abuse, fill out questionnaires, and are debriefed about their experience. The information is used both to track individual cases and to identify trends/patterns within the judicial system.
When Sylvia describes herself as a “lifelong education fanatic” she’s not just bragging. “When I was a kid,” she says, “you couldn’t find me without a book in my face.” Her mother taught school from age 18 to age 70, and her father was a CPA. After college, Sylvia embarked on a 40-plus year career in a wide variety of IT jobs, beginning as a programmer and working her way up to senior executive. She also went back to school for her MBA and a Master’s degree in Software Engineering. She is currently enrolled in a web design program with the goal of designing websites for nonprofits.
Sylvia encourages everyone to volunteer. “People don’t understand how much they have to give,” she says, before adding, “Just giving money is impersonal; giving time is more valuable.”
When not volunteering, Sylvia rides her bike (she has been on bike tours to Italy, Spain, Taiwan and France), attends her grandkids’ sporting events, reads (mainly nonfiction), and watches TV in the evenings with her husband (she prefers programs that showcase strong women).
On the domestic side, she doesn’t cook and she doesn’t clean. “A clean house,” she declares with the hint of a smile, “is the sign of a wasted life.”