By Anna Lothson
Teachers often say that when they retire, they don't know how to stop teaching.
This is the case with Oak Park resident Linda Augustyn, who, after retiring in June, started volunteering with Open Books' Write program as a mentor. She works with high school students in some of Chicago's most impoverished neighborhoods.
"I've really always thought about giving back. When you're a teacher, you're a teacher. There was never a thought that I was never going to teach," the 27-year resident said. "To do this is just wonderful. I don't really feel retired."
Augustyn discovered Open Books after her husband died and she downsized her living situation. She donated many of her books to the nonprofit organization. Once she learned of its mission of providing community programs through volunteerism to promote literacy, she was hooked.
She immediately became involved in three programs, including one for struggling third-grade readers and another for three high school students creating their memoirs for publishing.
"I just absolutely love Open Book because of all these opportunities," said Augustyn, a reading specialist. "It's very structured and very focused. Yet at the same time you also feel really good. Open Book supports you."
"The energy in this particular organization is young and from all walks of life," she said. "You really, really feel the energy of the program. It's a great way to meet whole generations. We're all brought together to work with these kids in different circumstances."
A high-energy person who arrives early and works late, Augustyn said she has found value for herself, the program and the kids through this volunteering opportunity. As a former teacher who had to abide by curriculum guidelines, she appreciates the freedom to create lessons that work well with these particular children and teens.
"It's a chance to frame instruction. For kids who really need extra help it's been wonderful," she said. For example, she found a way to connect with a third-grader, who, during their first lessons, couldn't put sounds together. Once they read through a book in its entirety, the young girl was excited and eager to learn.
"There are such unique stories," Augustyn said. "You learn that people are different and have their own challenges."
Many who succeed give her hugs and thanks. A majority of the children don't have resources needed at their schools and most don't have access to computers. But they're always happy to see Augustyn.
"It's so simple and so powerful. Just literally, it means just that much to them. … To me it's humbling every day that I go there," she said. "They have the same admiration. They're just at different starting points financially."
She's learned in her retirement that she won't ever stop being a teacher. She's learned that one-on-one attention is needed more than ever so kids know they have someone invested in their future.
"Those simple differences make you pause," the longtime educator said.
Most importantly, she's learned it's important to spark a desire in kids to learn, many of whom aren't pushed to do so.
"This is just exciting stuff. I don't think of this as service to others as I do how much I'm benefiting for it," Augustyn said. "To just get back to pure teaching and relationship-building with kids, it's exciting, it's exhilarating."
To learn more about the organization Augustyn works with, or to learn ways to volunteer, visit open-books.org.
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