When I volunteered last year to be a "writing coach" for young teens in Berkeley and Albany schools, I immediately began to fear I'd made a big mistake.
I'd never done such a thing and had no idea how to go about it. I pictured myself nervous and flummoxed by bored, fidgety youngsters who had a thousand other things they're rather be doing.
Luckily, however, I had signed up with a terrific East Bay program called WriterCoach Connection. No previous experience was necessary, and after two well-crafted training sessions, I was issued my ID and a starting date at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.
I was still nervous in that first one-on-one coaching session, but I quickly discovered that the training had prepared me well. The students were listening and responding. Their willingness to follow through and apply the suggestions they heard varied, of course, but the great majority of them were tuned in and eager to learn.
By the time I finished several weeks later, I had developed a keen interest in how "my kids" were progressing. The delight I felt in seeing their work gradually improve was much greater than I would have predicted, and I still remember moments of discovery and increased self-confidence that brightened their faces.
I'm recalling my experience now because WriterCoach Connection is coming to El Cerrito High this fall in a pilot program for 9th graders. Volunteers are being sought, and I want to encourage interested readers to consider making a difference in a young person's life.
Don't worry about not knowing how to go about it. Having begun nine years ago in Berkeley, the program has evolved a surprisingly effective training program -- consisting of two sessions -- that prepares the volunteer coaches well. The training is also an enjoyable way to meet some of the fellow coaches. My sessions even had free cookies.
Many of us can recall a single sentence or piece of advice that some adult told us when we were young that left a lasting impression on our minds, perhaps on our lives. The adults, however, seldom know when they've planted such a seed.
WriterCoach Connection, in my view, offers a rich garden where the guidance of adults may enjoy a much higher yield.
The harvest, as it should be, belongs chiefly to the youth -- an increased ability to find their own voice, to express themselves more effectively and to take pride in their work.
But there are rewards for the adults too.
Those who would like to know more or to volunteer can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Todd Groves, lead volunteer, at 510-621-7307. The attached PDF also contains information about the new program at El Cerrito High.
A two-part training session takes place at the high school on Sept. 16 and 23, while additional training sessions will be held in Berkeley. More information about WriterCoach Connection can be found at www.writercoachconnection.org.
Of course, this isn't the only valuable program that needs volunteers at El Cerrito High or elsewhere in the city. I chose to write about it because I have personal experience with it and because it's new to El Cerrito, and thus many people in the city aren't familiar with it yet. We're hoping to publish a column this coming week about another new program to help the high school -- "Investing in Academic Excellence for All."