83-year-old veteran Eugene Ward is a resident of Heber City, Utah. And while he may be getting up there in age, that doesn’t mean he intends to slow down anytime soon.
Despite living about an hour away from the West Valley elementary school, Ward makes a round-trip drive to the school at least twice a week. But this commute isn’t for a paycheck or to visit his grandchildren.
Ward volunteers his time to help the school’s students learn how to read.
Known to the children as their classroom grandparent “Mr. Gene,” Ward is a regular volunteer in the classroom of first grade teacher Marta Welch. He has been teaching children to read for over a year now, sitting with them for up to 15 minutes at a time, where the retired octogenarian provides individual coaching to each student.
“As teachers with up to 30 students, we do our best, but there’s no way that we can every day check in with each student, much less sit down and read with them one-on-one,” Welch said in an interview with KSL. “To have a Mr. Gene who is able to sit down one-on-one with them and check in has just been amazing for my classroom.”
“He makes funny voices, and I get to play with him sometimes when he comes to recess,” said Zoee Means, speaking of Ward’s habit of joining her classmates on the schoolyard playground.
And it is these very relationships with Ward that have encouraged the children’s reading success.
According to Welch, their confidence comes from having someone who genuinely motivate them to reach their reading goals.
Because teacher’s assistants at the school are not readily available, Ward’s commitment has now sparked interest across the community to welcome more retired veterans and seniors to join teachers in helping the children.
“The children in these schools are disadvantaged from an educational standpoint,” Ward said. “There’s a lot of talent in this population, and unless we help them get started, it’s all going to go to waste. Down the road, it’s better for the country to help them along and help them get a good start.”
Much to Welch’s relief, Ward said he plans to keep volunteering in her classroom next school year.