Suzanne Bergman, a 73-year-old volunteer former teacher, has dedicated her life to educating children. After her retirement in 2014, she found a new way to continue her mission by tutoring under-resourced children with New Horizons of Southwestern Florida. She began in 2015, and when her local chapter closed, she moved to another. Seeing a lack of help, she called 100 fellow volunteers to encourage them to join her in the new location and emphasize the impact they have on students. Her efforts are also extended to other child-centered programs she has found through her church.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I spent my career working in early childhood education. I was a public school teacher, then a preschool teacher, and then director of private preschool. When my son went to college, I took a full-time job as a director of a backup childcare center, and after that, I became the director of a corporate childcare center. I did that for about 10 years. I enjoy helping young children.
Describe your volunteer role with New Horizons.
New Horizons is an agency that tutors children from two local schools. They have a paid staff of two or three in the classroom along with the volunteers. After school, students are bused to my church and given a snack before getting started with their homework. Tutors are typically paired with the same children each time and can really help with organization and focus. New Horizons helps keep everyone on track with a checklist each day. I usually work with the youngest group, first through third grade.
I’m also a member of the outreach committee at my church which is responsible for engaging the conversation around and designating donations to different programs and causes. New Horizons is one such beneficiary.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Every day, I’m just so excited to be with the children, to be a part of a learning experience. Knowing some of their background, how there’s often no one to help them with homework at home because their parents are unable to speak English or read, it’s inspiring to see how much they learn and want to succeed because of the love that we give them. That’s why I enjoy it so much. I always look forward to going and feel a comfortable joy when I leave.
There are two little girls I used to have consistently who were the best of friends, and they worked off of each other. I would always have one on my left and one on my right. They just enjoyed being with each other. And there was a little competition between them—which one was going to finish sooner—we would talk a little bit about. And they were very organized. You could tell they just loved getting to help and being there.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I live in Naples, Florida. I was not aware of the need for this type of work here when I moved in. Some of the families that live in this community, their lifestyle and the incredible need that they have for our help was unexpected.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I love the 5th grade graduation party they always have at the end of the school year. We have great food, and some of the parents are there. It’s wonderful just seeing all the students together and how grown up they are. The group leader reads a little affirmation about each child, and the children talk about what they are going to do during either during the summer or some activities they enjoyed. It’s the accumulation of the time realizing how much we all have given to the children who are ready to leave us.
New Horizons also has a luncheon every year with the children and volunteers. The choir comes, and they choose about four students who are graduating to give a little speech to the entire group of attendees. It’s just amazing to see that they can get up in front of everyone and talk about their experience.
Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
I think it helps us be constantly aware of how fortunate we are, of everything life and experience has given us and how we can pay it forward. For many of us, it’s not about just writing a check or showing up somewhere. It’s really about having the heart to use some of the skills that, perhaps like myself, you have been trained in and are able to lend to children and families who can benefit from your experience.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I want them to become aware of the need to support and uplift families and children and to also realize the joy in it. So many people play tennis or golf instead, and I think they’re missing out on an incredible experience to just do something out of the goodness of their heart.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Suzanne? Find local volunteer opportunities.