Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"People Who Can Engage People": ReServe at Work at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center

ReServist Leo Johnson in the entryway to the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. In the center is a quilt called “Five Decades of Change,” sewn by local residents, which illustrates the recent history of Manhattan’s West Side.

“The title that was given to me was Computer Specialist. I didn't know that's what I was!” Leo Johnson laughs, asked about the beginning of his work as a ReServist at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center (LSNC).

For over 50 years, LSNC has pursued its mission: “Meeting the social, educational, recreational and cultural needs of the people of the West Side” of New York City, serving over 2,700 individuals and 1,250 families.

“I knew ReServe would be different from the work I had done in the past,” he explains. Before his retirement, Leo had been a field engineer, working with different types of computers. “And I wanted to go out and volunteer.”
Leo explains: “Since I had retired I was becoming sort of sedentary and not doing anything. I needed to get out of the house instead of rolling out of bed and sitting around all day. I needed to do more walking. Doctors kept telling me I needed more exercise. So that was an impetus. These two things came together at about the same time.

“Initially, my contact with ReServe was through my wife. She was a ReServist.”

In Leo’s ReServe application, under the heading “Interests”, he wrote: “I'd like to build a computer.” LSNC was looking for someone with computer expertise to help in their computer lab. ReServe put the two in touch.

“Certainly whatever skills and knowledge I may have had in the professional world before I retired--of course it helps--but I wouldn't say it's a prerequisite for what I am doing here.

“I would say that what I am doing here is . . .” Leo pauses, looking for the best word--“fun!”

“It’s challenging in the sense that I'm learning new things. And interacting with the people who are here.

“But that's what I try to do--I try to be an assistant, assisting in the teaching of the classes. And now due to a shortage of teachers, I'm more involved in being a ‘lead teacher,’ if you will--involved in teaching some of the courses.”
Stephanie Pinder, LSNC’s Executive Director, explains the significance of the ReServists’ work to the organization. “The other ReServist we have here is Trudy Solin. She provides art services for our senior program.

“When we got involved with ReServe--we heard about it, and then met with them to see exactly what it would be, and thought that it might make a good match for us to just be able to get some--certainly more experienced--folks here. And at reasonable rates!”

Stephanie stops to laugh, then continues: “These are two people who are really well grounded, and who are able to not only be knowledgeable in their field but to impart that knowledge. And to engage people as well. And the feedback that I've gotten, particularly from the seniors, is that they are really patient, very knowledgeable.”

Often, Stephanie points out, “Our seniors want to learn computers because their grandchildren are emailing pictures to them. They need to know what the heck is this, how do I get it? It has become part of their lives because the younger folks who are important to them are using email.”

Because of the ReServists’ involvement, she says, “Our seniors are really excited about coming and learning what they're learning. And the number of seniors in our classes has grown.”

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