Originally created 02/22/98

Volunteers spend time with pupils



AIKEN -- Arva LaMunyon never thought her feet would walk on elementary school ground again.

But they have -- four times over the past five months.

Mrs. LaMunyon and her husband, Ben, are members of Pairs and Spares, a senior citizens volunteer group. On a recent Thursday morning, the Aiken couple and several of their friends spent two hours in the sun helping Millbrook Elementary School pupils plant shrubs along a brick wall of the school. The bushes, they said, would make fine feasts for bees, butterflies and mud daubers.

Much of the labor for Millbrook's nature center, which includes a dinosaur dig, a butterfly garden and wildflower berm, has been provided by Pairs and Spares through a program called Linking Intergenerational Networks in Communities, or LINC-UP.

For most of the morning, 8-year-old Brandon Taylor shadowed Lester Boyd, five times his senior. Together, the two loosened the clay earth with their shovels, gingerly placed each shrub in the ground, then filled the six-inch hole with dirt and mulch.

"I have a lot in common with them," Brandon said. "They love digging in the dirt, and I do, too."

Across the country, programs similar to LINC have emerged as a cost-effective way of propelling human resources and fostering cross-age understanding.

Seniors' experience make them perfect candidates for tutoring schoolchildren, guiding troubled teens and teaching young women to be better moms, said Alice Kirkland, grants support facilitator for Aiken County public schools.

In Aiken County, seniors are trading sacred recipes, reading novels to pupils and quilting with high schoolers. All the while wowing them with story telling.

And youngsters' exuberance make them excellent choices for cheering up lonely nursing home residents, taking on chores and sharing computer skills, she said.

"It's always an exchange," Mrs. LaMunyon said. "You learn so much from the children, and they learn from you."

Patience is always a virtue, she said.

In its first year of existence, about 50 seniors and 800 students have participated in the program. Most of the students are considered at-risk, with 40 percent from single-parent homes and another 35 percent have failed one or more courses. The volunteers are retired engineers, school teachers, homemakers or clergy.

"(LINC) provides kids with a listening ear, and seniors feel needed," Mrs. Kirkland said.

She referred to present-day America as an age-segregated society -- as a place where grandparents often live far away and opportunities for intergenerational contacts are frequently limited. Activities that once pulled families together -- caring for shut-ins, minding small siblings and teaching cultural history -- are nowadays delegated to paid professionals, nursing homes and government-funded services providers.

"I'm sometimes reminded of my grandparents when I see them on campus," said third-grader Lauren Pratt of the senior volunteers. "They live in Kentucky so I don't get to see them often, and I miss them telling me what to do sometimes."