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A Helping Hand

At age 80, Chuck Brooks, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, has earned the right to relax.

Instead, he has spent the past 16 years volunteering at the 320-student Palmer Lake Elementary School in Palmer Lake, Colo.

Mr. Brooks founded the school's Patron Assisted Learning program, or PALS, in the mid-1980s in an effort to support young students who needed social and academic guidance.

Tic Tacs and other treats also help, Mr. Brooks admits with a laugh. As a special reward, he often brings students doughnuts or small candies. "I've found that using a reward system works better than just telling a kid what he's done wrong," he said.

The idea for the program was born when Mr. Brooks visited his granddaughter's kindergarten class and noticed that many children appeared lonely and seemed thrilled to have him take an interest in their work.

"I discovered that to many kids, just having an older person around who shows an interest in who they are and how well they're doing makes all the difference," he said. "I love being around these little guys. They make life worth living. Of course, doing this also keeps me off the golf course."

The program relies solely on volunteers, including parents, senior citizens, Air Force cadets, high school students, and other community members, who act as student mentors. Every year, between 20 and 40 volunteers spend up to 45 minutes two or three times a week with as many as five students nominated by their teachers.

"They select kids who could, well, use a pal," said Principal Paula Mooney. "Chuck is just a real motivator and inspiration."

Mr. Brooks works closely with teachers and helps children who are struggling with math, reading, or social studies. "He does it all," Ms. Mooney said. "Sometimes just talking to a kid to find out what's up."

For his efforts, this month he won the Colorado Association of Partners in Education's exemplary volunteer of the year award.

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 12, Page 3

Published in Print: November 21, 2001, as Take Note

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