Volunteers put the village in Village Learning Place

Posted on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 by Melissa Howison

Rarely is the work of educating youth dull. Sometimes it is tiring, often it is rewarding, and it is never something that is best done alone. Community helpers and family members of students in the Village Learning Place’s afterschool program, Let’s Invest in Neighborhood Kids, who volunteer know this all to be true.

Emanuel Figueroa regularly volunteers in his daughter’s 1st and 2nd grade LINK classroom. He remembers one day, when the students were learning about pueblo houses during a history lesson in their daily circle time. For the activity, students were to build models of pueblo houses using cardboard, toothpicks, and scissors. “The kids took it to the next level,” Mr. Figueroa recalls. He watched and helped with enchantment as groups of first and second graders constructed elaborate and unique pueblo houses. He said that even though everyone received the same information and instructions, their projects were as individual as them. “Every kid had a different take…it was very cute.”


Kanako Mochizuki-Richardson, who has a son in the same class and also volunteers in the 1st and 2nd grade LINK classroom, shared an equally touching experience. Annie Malone, the 1st and 2nd grade LINK After School teacher, was leading the class in a reading activity during circle time. Ms. Mochizuki-Richardson was helping a “shy” student, and said his reaction when she complimented his reading made her realize the value of family volunteers in the classroom. “Kids’ faces light up when I or any adult acknowledge their behavior, accomplishments or strengths,” Ms. Mochizuki-Richardson said.

Emanuel and Kanako identify very different reasons for getting started as volunteers in their children’s classroom, but have matching takeaways and have benefitted in surprisingly similar ways.

The connections between the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” and the Village Learning Place go beyond shared language, if you ask Mr. Figueroa. His enthusiasm for volunteering stems from a belief in the idea of a participatory community. “For me it all goes back to my upbringing and the idea of sharing my time, talent, and treasures whenever I can,” he said. Ms. Mochizuki-Richardson, on the other hand, started spending time in the classroom because she was concerned about her son’s behavior. Regardless of the motivation, both parents recommend volunteering as a way for LINK students and family members to grow together.

The benefits of volunteering surpass fulfilling Mr. Figueroa’s passion for giving back. “I feel like I get to understand [my daughter’s] day and her social circle,” he said. Mr. Figueroa’s presence pays off in other ways too. He has learned that “kids like having familiar faces,” based on their excitement when they see him at Village Learning Place events. Ms. Mochizuki-Richardson also said she enjoys being able to say hello to students out in the community.

For Ms. Mochizuki-Richardson, being in the classroom has given her the opportunity to support her son through struggles that she would not otherwise have the context to address with him. “I realized that students behave different at home and in a group setting,” she said. Volunteering is a way for her to be involved in a new aspect of her son’s development. Lauren Snyder, the VLP’s Academics and Evaluation Coordinator, agrees that family support in those areas is extremely important. Volunteers help with the routine logistics: distributing materials, answering student questions, tying shoes, recognizing student achievement, and more. They also provide invaluable insight as primary caretakers of LINK students. “We view families as resources—they are a student’s first teacher, and we know that we can learn a lot from them,” Ms. Snyder said. Teachers and family members send a stronger message together.

Mr. Figueroa has seen the same strength in numbers. He noticed he has the power to reinforce academic strategies the teacher has demonstrated, even with students other than his daughter.

Both Emanuel and Kanako also said the ability of family members to make a difference does not come as a burden. Both parents emphasized the role of the teacher as a trustworthy classroom authority figure. “A lot of volunteering is just being there to help,” Mr. Figueroa said. He did not have extensive experience working with children before volunteering at LINK, but has not felt overwhelmed by the responsibility or time commitment. For parents who feel too busy to volunteer, Mr. Figueroa suggests making a little extra time to help when they already plan to be there, 30 minutes before pick-up, for example. Ms. Mochizuki-Richardson echoed his attitude, encouraging family members not to stay for an entire afternoon if their schedule doesn’t allow for it. “Don’t overcommit yourself,” she said, and it will be an enjoyable, helpful, and rewarding experience.

Especially considering that a little can go a long way. “When community members volunteer, they send a strong message that they are invested in LINK and in the VLP.  When youth see that their family is willing to give their time and attention, they see that the program is valuable to the people they respect.  They see that their families take LINK seriously, and that they are willing to support us,” said Ms. Snyder.

To volunteer in the LINK After School program or other VLP initiatives, visit https://www.villagelearningplace.org/get-involved/volunteer/ or email vlpnews@villagelearningplace.org.  LINK families, please look for opportunities in the LINK family emails and sign up online.