Thursday, November 30, 2017

Becoming a Senior Pal

"This is something I need to pay attention to."

I got a voice mail from a person whose name I did not recognize; she left a friendly message so I returned her call.

"Hello … ?" she answered, a little hesitantly.

"Hi, I'm Walter Jost, returning your recent call."

"HI," a relaxed voice said. "I was calling about the SPIFF program … that's an acronym for Senior Pals in Fun and Friendship. It's a program at ( the school at which I'm volunteering ) school. Do you have a child or grandchild there?"

"Gosh," I said. "No, no I have neither."

"I wonder how I got your name," she replied.

"Well, I am a volunteer there, working once a week with second graders. Perhaps … ?" I offered.

She explained that SPIFF joins an older adult with a student, for the year, in fun and friendship, which includes monthly all-group meetings, during the week, during the school day, for a fun event. I had just barely started with my math students and hesitated to go further. Still, the idea had appeal.

"Thank you for calling," I heard myself say, "but I don't think that's something I am interested in at this time."

"You're very welcome, thanks for hearing me out."

Several weeks passed; I was enjoying my math students.

"Hi Walter," the email began, "Can you be a SPIFF pal this year?"

It was from my Learning Buddies teacher. He suggested I could partner with one of the boys with whom I was already working, or one of his other students. He also sent an explanation of what SPIFF is.

"This is something I need to pay attention to." I did not need my wife's input this time.

By then I was more interested than when I got the first call, but I was unable to make the initial meeting. I responded that I could not make the first meeting but I was open to participating. What's next, then?

There was no 'next.' He wrote, "The first get-together is pretty important so maybe this year it won't work out."

"One meeting is that important? Are you kidding me?" I replied only that I was disappointed, and my disappointment told me I was not only open, but wanting, to be a senior pal. No response.

The teacher greeted me jauntily when I showed up for my next shift. "So, Walter, thanks for coming this morning. You'll be a SPIFF pal for Eric?" I was simultaneously taken aback and instantly glad to know that I could still be a SPIFF partner … with one of the boys I was already working with to boot. "Can you stay for a while after your work is done with the boys? You and Eric can do some of what you would have done at the first meeting."

"Yes, I can do that," I replied … enthusiastically, I hope.

We spent close to an hour together after our class. He showed me his 'welcome mat,' which told me about him, which he had not finished. He gave me an IYQ ( I Like You ) teddy bear, and then decorated it, we traced each other's hand on a single piece of paper and decorated them, and he asked me 10 pre-determined questions, interview style, so he'd learn some things about me. "Where did you grow up?" "What guidance would you give me about life?"

"Have a nice Thanksgiving," I said to everyone as I left the area. My heart was full and I looked forward to adventures as a senior friend to a second grader.

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