When Al Behrman returned to his hometown almost 20 years ago to care for his ailing mother, the only job he could find was driving a school bus. While driving the school bus, Behrman discovered the career he wished he would have found when he was younger – teaching. He saw the need in the children he befriended on his bus routes and decided to help them. During the past 20 years, he has found creative ways to make a difference in kids’ lives and the community has come to recognize him as an advocate for all children, especially those who come from single-parent, low-income homes.
Behrman has refurbished donated desks and desks he finds at St. Vincent de Paul for children who need a quiet study space at home. He checks out books from the local library and delivers them to children in trailer parks and apartment complexes. Children who meet reading goals are rewarded with treats and trips to McDonald’s, Devil’s Lake State Park to go swimming and Baxter Hollow, a local nature area, to spend the day exploring – all hosted by Behrman at his expense.
For seven years, Behrman ran a year-round tutoring program for children aged four to nine – volunteers helped him transport and tutor the children. Last summer a local elementary school’s parent support group paid for a school bus and Behrman transported children to and from his program. He makes sure that every child makes regular trips to the library and got their own library cards. Over the years, more than 100 children have benefited from his informal, fun approaches to learning.
In 1996, the Baraboo Literacy Council awarded Behrman its first Individual Award, given annually to individuals who show outstanding support for improving literacy and ongoing education in Baraboo. In 2000, he was awarded the J. Martin Wolman Outstanding Service Award, given by Wisconsin State Journal Youth Services Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin, to recognize people who have made a significant contribution to the welfare of children and who have inspired others to do the same.
Due to poor health, Behrman, 69, hopes someone else will take over his tutoring program. He continues to volunteer almost daily at South Elementary School in Baraboo – tutoring, telling stories with handmade puppets, helping in the computer lab or helping to fix things that break. One year he gave every teacher in the school a boom box so that the kids could be exposed to different kinds of music. Another year he donated money so that the teachers could buy something they needed for the classrooms.
Behrman says that he does not understand why more retired people do not see that the kids in their communities need them. He said he could see it the first day on the bus.