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I can still remember my excitement when I lost my first tooth. Not because it signified my growing up, or a visit from the tooth fairy, but mostly because it meant that I would get to tell Mr. Krekelberg at school the next day. I had heard the rumors around the school… “Mr. Krekelberg will give you a dime every time you lose a tooth!” Now, I finally got the chance to see if Mr. K was really that nice.
Turns out, he really was that nice. The next day, I smiled my biggest 6-year-old smile to show him my missing tooth. He pulled a dime out of his pocket and handed it to me, and I couldn’t believe his generosity.
But today, looking back 20 years later, I realize that it wasn’t the dimes he gave away that made Mr. Krekelberg generous; It was the gift of his time.
Mr. Krekelberg was my first-grade teacher’s dad. He volunteered as a teacher’s aide in Mrs. Johnson’s first-grade classroom for as many years as I can remember. All the kids in school had their own Mr. K stories – reading books with him in the hallway, learning new vocabulary words because of his help, and countless tales of the many dimes he gave away.
He would volunteer his time to help students with their reading skills, usually pulling small groups or individuals into the hallway to give us an extra push with our reading. We saw him as someone who cared about our education but who also cared about us. Mr. K was a kind-hearted man who would spend a couple hours per week making us feel seen, loved, and encouraged. He was a grandpa-like figure to the entire school and someone whose smile could brighten your whole day.
Mr. K made such an impact on me that, when he passed away when I was in high school, I went to his funeral as a final thank you to him. The church was filled with community members and my school mates, now grown, all remembering Mr. K for his generous heart and the many years he spent volunteering at our school. His gift of time left a legacy that lasted far beyond the spending of his last dimes.
As I grew up and began wondering what I wanted to do, it was Mr. Krekelberg and many other wonderful teachers in my life that inspired my decision to become a teacher. I graduated from University of Northwestern Saint Paul with a degree in Elementary Education, and I spent the next few years teaching English in Spain, and then fourth grade in Denver, Colorado.
During my time teaching, I experienced the many joys and challenges in education today. Working with students is such a rewarding experience, but there are also many challenges teachers face these days. I made the decision to step out of the classroom, but maintained a strong desire to help students however I could. That’s when I found out about the amazing work of DARTS, and I couldn’t be more excited to be the new Program Specialist for Learning Buddies and Pen Pals!
The purpose of the DARTS Learning Buddies program is to connect volunteers with local schools to foster academic skills and make intergenerational connections. Simply put, we seek out people like Mr. Krekelberg – older adults who want to volunteer. We equip them with some training, then we find local schools in need of help, and they go and make a difference.
As a former teacher, I know firsthand how helpful it can be to have extra help in the classroom. Whether it’s practicing reading or writing, working on math skills, or having a helping hand during science experiments, volunteers help to make learning fun and successful. Plus, the more positive adult relationships kids can have in their life, the better. These programs are truly a win-win-win for the students, teachers, and volunteers.
For 26 years, the DARTS Learning Buddies program has helped volunteers give back to their communities. Countless hours have been volunteered throughout Dakota County and over a thousand students and teachers are impacted each year – students just like I was when I lost my first tooth.
In the same way Mr. K impacted my life, DARTS Learning Buddies give the gift of their time to shape students today. Learning Buddies not only help students learn new academic skills, but they also show students that they are cared for. This impact, just like Mr. Krekelberg’s impact on me, is a gift that will last for many years to come.
If you are interested in giving the gift of your time to a school near you, Annie would love to talk to you about Learning Buddies and Pen Pals! Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-234-2227. To learn more, visit dartsconnects.org/learning-buddies.
Annie Lesnar is the Learning Buddies and Pen Pals Program Specialist at DARTS! Annie earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Northwestern – Saint Paul. In her career, she has served as a teacher in Colorado and Spain. Annie is also co-founder of The Abana Foundation, which is a nonprofit that inspires kids-for-kids connections and empowers them to make a difference in the world. At DARTS, Annie loves working with the wonderful Learning Buddies volunteers, and partnering together to put the mission of DARTS into action!
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