When Golden Valley Resident Paul Pranghoffer retired from his job as a software engineer, he decided that he wanted to make his free time meaningful, but he wasn't sure how.
When Pranghoffer's neighbor, who is a third grade teacher at Noble Elementary School, suggested volunteering in the classroom, it seemed like a no-brainer. Now, after five years of involvement with Robbinsdale Area Schools' Volunteers In Partnership (VIP) program, Pranghoffer is excited to say that he's made a difference in the lives of many children.
"I started working with students who were having trouble with reading," Pranghoffer said. "And I just fell in love with it."
Every Wednesday, Pranghoffer helps students at Noble better their reading skills. For one hour, a few students sit with Pranghoffer and read a book of their choosing. Pranghoffer feels that he can connect with the students because reading was always difficult for him.
"When I was in third grade, I flunked reading. I didn't have someone who sat down with me and helped me," Pranghoffer said. "I really have a feel for what these kids are going through as they’re trying to better their reading skills."
Volunteers In Partnership volunteers, like Pranghoffer, are eager to impact the lives of learners, both children and adults. Created in 1975 and originally named Volunteers in Action, VIP is comprised of roughly 760 community volunteers. Last year, VIP volunteers contributed 28,000 service hours to Robbinsdale Area Schools.
"Our volunteers help children and adults develop their own strengths and help them get to where they need and want to go," said VIP Coordinator Jill Kaufman. "The gift our volunteers truly bring is the ability to help a student build capacity as a learner."
In addition to classroom work, 120 trained VIP volunteers conduct the district's elementary school vision and hearing screening. Volunteers also work with adults to help them obtain their GED or gain American citizenship.
But becoming a VIP volunteer also takes time. Each volunteer goes through an application and interview process before beginning training and ultimately becoming a volunteer.
To personalize the experience and prepare the volunteer for success, each person completes the necessary steps prior to volunteering which includes an application, interview, and reference checks. Workshops designed for volunteers are also available to build the volunteers' skills.
"We have a commitment to training volunteers," Kaufman said. "By taking the time to really nurture our volunteers, the result is that we have improved learning. If there's trust and credibility established between volunteer and student, that student is more likely to try, make mistakes, and accelerate their learning. Our district truly values our volunteers and is grateful the significant contribution they make."