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Volunteer Programs Offer Seniors a Way to Spend Their Time Helping Others

Shirley Mickel volunteers at a Washington elementary school twice a week
Shirley Mickel volunteers at a Washington elementary school twice a week

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I’m Doug Johnson.

Today: Some new music from Christina Aguilera.

And a report on vocational education in the United States.

But first, we talk to some Americans who have retired from their professional lives but still work hard to help others.


Senior Volunteers

DOUG JOHNSON: Many retired Americans seek volunteer work as a useful way to spend their time. Older citizens have knowledge, experience and skills that can fill many needs. Shirley Griffith tells about some of these volunteers and the help they provide.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Chaniya Anderson is a second grader at Whittier Elementary School in Washington. She needs help in math and reading. She gets help in those subjects from Shirley Mickel, a sixty-two-year- old-volunteer.

SHIRLEY MICKEL: “Very good, excellent. Excellent Chaniya.”

CHANIYA ANDERSON: “I enjoy math.”

Shirley Mickel is retired from the federal government. She tutors at Whittier two times a week. So does volunteer Gloria Pendelton, a former computer systems programmer. She is sixty-five.

GLORIA PENDELTON: “I feel much better. I feel that I am learning. So I am constantly trying to learn along with the children.”

Both women are members of Experience Corps. It is a nationwide program that connects people over age fifty-five with elementary school students from low-income families. About two thousand volunteers help students in twenty-three cities across the country.

Kathleen Kaye has been an Experience Corps volunteer for more than three years.

KATHLEEN KAYE: “What I have seen is a lot of kids really take off because they do have the one-on-one attention and they are up to grade level, if not beyond, as a result of having been in the program.”

But she says she gets back more than she gives. Irving Wilson, a volunteer for more than seven years, says he does also.

IRVING WILSON: “I get a lot of benefits from being in this program. I keep my mind active and coming to school three times a week, and walking up and down the steps, that kept me physically able.”

But volunteering is not just good for the brain and body. Eighty-six-year-old Mary Holt finds it good for her soul.

REPORTER: “Why do you like to volunteer?”

MARY HOLT: “It gives me peace. Happiness. And knowing that I’m helping other people.”

Mary Holt has been an active volunteer for the last thirty years. She volunteers through her church in Arlington, Virginia. She makes meals for the homeless. She helps with the church’s newsletter and puts together its Sunday service papers.

Seventy-two-year-old Glenn Wood of Missoula, Montana says volunteer work keeps him connected. He works in the federal government’s Senior Corps program. Almost five hundred thousand volunteers work in thousands of American communities.

Glenn Wood likes to do more than just one job. He serves as a guide for special exhibits at the University of Montana and for special events at the Missoula Art Museum. He also helps judge the yearly ninth grade science fair. And he works with a community conflict resolution group to lower crime and violence in the city.

Finally, he works in the Missoula visitor center during tourist season. He says the payback is simple. When you can help someone new in town solve a problem, you feel good about it.


Vocational Education

DOUG JOHNSON: This week’s listener question comes from China. Feng Tianqiang wants to know more about vocational education in the United States.

There is a long history of vocational education in this country. Dating back to colonial times, the government has supported programs to train skilled workers. It started out as a way to teach students to farm and work in industries. But as the American economy grew, so too has vocational training.

Today, vocational education is usually called career and technical education, or CTE.

Students in high schools and trade schools can earn degrees in many areas. They include nursing, engineering, accounting, biotechnologies, web design, art design and auto mechanics, just to name a few.

Career and technical education is different from traditional school because it is much more “hands on.” Instead of sitting in a crowded classroom taking notes, students in CTE programs learn a trade. They are prepared to step out of the classroom right into the working world. That means they can start earning money years before students who attend four-year colleges.

This can be especially appealing considering the present high unemployment rate and the rising costs of attending college. Many college graduates owe hundreds of thousands of dollars for their education costs. Some are struggling to find jobs.

At the same time, some of the fastest growing jobs are in technical areas. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says eighteen of the twenty fastest growing jobs in the next decade will require technical education.

However, for many years, parents and educators have pushed for college education. So enrollment in vocational schools is down.

In nineteen eighty-two, one-third of high school students chose vocational schools. But in two thousand five, only one-fifth of students did.

Supporters of college education point out that students who attend vocational schools will make less money on average. They are worried that some students will settle for vocational education when they could go to college and possibly earn more money. They also say students who choose vocational schools miss out on the college experience.

Some people say the best choice is a little bit of both. There are about two thousand five hundred “career academies” within American high schools. Students take both academic and technical courses. They also get work experience. The career academies were developed to redesign large high schools into small learning communities. They are designed to link high school, further education and the workplace.



DOUG JOHNSON: Christina Aguilera’s latest album “Bionic” is filled with sexy songs made for dancing. Critics are divided in their opinion of the album. But they agree that she is experimenting with electronic sounds and new ways of singing. Faith Lapidus tells us more.


Volunteer Programs Offer Seniors a Way to Spend Their Time Helping Others
Volunteer Programs Offer Seniors a Way to Spend Their Time Helping Others

FAITH LAPIDUS: That was “Bionic”, the title song of Christina Aguilera’s newest album. This is the twenty-nine-year-old performer’s fourth album. She is best known for her powerful and emotional voice. But in this album she says she has softened her singing to try something different. Here is the energetic song “Prima Donna.”


Christina Aguilera has said that the album “Bionic” is about the future. And, she says her young son is her latest musical influence. She says he has made her want to play and have fun.

Christina Aguilera worked with different songwriters on the album including Linda Perry and the Australian singer-songwriter Sia.

We leave you with the song “Elastic Love” which the British-Sri Lankan performer M.I.A helped write.


DOUG JOHNSON:I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Mike Defabo, Dana Demange and Caty Weaver who was also the producer.

You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our shows at If you have a question about American life, send an e-mail to We might answer it on this show. Please remember to tell us your name and where you live.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.