Across America, caring adults are involved in efforts to foster literacy among at-risk children. While not minimizing the commitments of any of those individuals, there is an absolute “specialness” about the contributions made by a Pottstown, Pennsylvania man. He is a member of RSVP –the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Montgomery County.
Since early 1996, retired postal employee Bruce Griffiths, 61, has been working as a volunteer with low-income Head Start youngsters in the Pottstown area. At first, he merely read to the children in large and small groups every week. But, he soon told classroom teachers that he could do much more.
He designed whimsical number and word recognition activity sheets – new ones every week. Soon, the talented amateur artist began doing cartoon artwork and devising his own clever stories to accompany the pictures he drew. He spoke in the various character voices and the teachers and kids loved it. Griffiths’ goal: to capture the attention of the youngsters – and make reading fun and interactive. It should be noted that his commitment to family literacy has even extended to tutoring parents who are unable to read well enough to help their own boys and girls.
It is fair to say that nearly all of the children Griffiths works with are economically disadvantaged. Most lack intellectual stimulation in their home lives. And far too many, initially, exhibit a disinterest in learning. But he reaches them all. One little boy, as an example, who essentially sat mute for the first three months of class, ultimately blossomed as “Mr. Bruce” began to draw special pictures just for him.
In 1998, Griffiths created a fabulous, illustrated two by three foot tall “Big Book,” which tells the tale of a class trip to a nearby farm. Each child’s name appeared in the text, and all of the names could be substituted. At graduation ceremonies that year, every youngster received a reduced size photocopy of Griffiths’ farm story.
There is no limit to his inventiveness and willingness to undertake new projects. Head Start needed Lucky Ready program posters – he made a bunch of them. Someone had to dress up in the Lucky-dog suit for a special event – he rose to the occasion. Build a big straw horse? Why not.
In 199, his work with at-risk children was noted by a local television cable company, which designated him a Volunteer of the Year. Griffiths donated the prize money to purchase books and cassette tapes for 27 county Head Start classrooms, directly benefitting close to 500 youth.
This year, Griffiths is already writing a new animal book for the Head Start kids and is also working on a new series of activity sheets.