By Sam Phillips
Senior citizens volunteering in the community are being given the ability to earn tuition waivers they can give to students or use themselves at Youngstown State University and Eastern Gateway Community College.
GIVE Back GO Forward allows those over 60 who volunteer over 100 hours at one of three local charities to earn a three-credit-hour tuition waiver. Students are permitted to use two waivers per year, and they have five years to use them before they expire.
The participating charities are Inspiring Minds, which prepares students for college, United Way’s Success Before Six, which prepares students for kindergarten, and Success After Six, which focuses on improving retention and test scores for students in grades K-6.
Jeff Robinson, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Higher Education, said that a collaborative effort formed this program.
“There’s been some discussion between the chancellor, the Department of Aging director, [YSU] President Jim Tressel and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber president [Tom Humphries], who is on our board of regents,” Robinson said. “It just came together through some conversations. Everybody agreed that [Youngstown] would be a good place to pilot something like this.”
Tressel said the university is leading the way with this program.
“We were talking about how we could be helpful and we came up with this pilot program. We want to be a model for people to look after in this state,” Tressel said.
Sara Molski, assistant policy director at the Board of Regents, said there will be no state funding for the program.
“The institution stepped up and made a commitment. The institutions actually waive the credits,” Molski said.
She credits the participating charities with the success of GIVE Back GO Forward.
“One of the benefits of this program is that it’s very community driven. The community agencies themselves … they’re the ones who are on the ground, recruiting the volunteers, training the volunteers for hours,” Molski said. “We will be getting monthly reports from them, so we are waiting to see the first month, how things transpire.”
Robinson said they are grateful for the participating groups’ organizations, including Mature Services, who will help keep track of the volunteers’ hours.
“It’s not just us. There are a lot of people involved who are making this a reality, so we are thankful they stepped up and agreed to do this, and we hope to see a positive difference in the community,” Robinson said.
Senior citizens who have already volunteered can count completed hours towards the 100 hours needed to earn a tuition waiver.
Molski and Robinson said they worked with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to find programs that benefit the youth in the community. As the program continues to grow, they hope to sign on more non-profits, and the goal is for other communities in the state to replicate the program.
“Hopefully that volunteering and being around kids from a younger generation can give [the volunteer a] physical and mental health boost. Hopefully it’s a win-win for everyone involved,” Robinson said.
Laura Weymer, resource development associate at United Way, said she has seen an impact on both students and volunteers within the program.
“We have three women that are in our Success After Six program right now,” Weymer said. “The volunteers and the students have gotten to know each other and love being around each other. They have both learned so much from each other and enjoy the program. The volunteers say they look forward to seeing the kids again.”
In September, Laura will be contacting the Mahoning County Retired Teachers Association to find out if some of those people would be interested in volunteering.
“It’s been a great partnership so far. We definitely enjoy it so far, and we don’t see that changing,” she said. “We look forward to doing it again next year.”