Seniors, students mentor each other at GCC

  • Joshua Reis discusses his history project with Carol Aleman. The two were matched as part of the Greenfield Community College Senior Volunteer Mentoring Program. STAFF PHOTO/ANITA FRITZ

  • Joshua Reis discusses his history project with Carol Aleman. The two were matched as part of the Greenfield Community College Senior Volunteer Mentoring Program. STAFF PHOTO/ANITA FRITZ

  • Don Simms, left, and Joe Noble get together at Greenfield Community College to discuss how school is going for Joe. The two were matched as part of the Greenfield Community College Senior Volunteer Mentoring Program. STAFF PHOTO/ANITA FRITZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2019 10:23:59 PM
Modified: 12/4/2019 10:23:49 PM

GREENFIELD — Twenty-year-old Joshua Reis and retiree Carol Aleman started working together a couple of months ago, and they have not only nurtured an unexpected friendship, but mentored each other along the way.

The two are part of the Greenfield Community College Senior Volunteer Mentoring Program, which pairs local seniors and college students for whatever reason the two feel is appropriate, whether it be help with school work and projects or suggestions about what path the student might take through college and after graduation.

According to GCC Associate Dean of Student Development Judy Raper, the program provides an opportunity for seniors in the local community to connect with students via mentoring relationships. The program is designed to offer students opportunities to learn strategies for both academic and social success, encourage conversations that enhance critical thinking and communication skills and offer opportunities for reflection, give students an additional resource or relationship to supplement those they already have with peers, college faculty and staff and friends, and give them access to a mentor who shares common interests and experiences.

Reis, who lives in Northampton, plans to transfer to the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a history major next year. He said when he went to his advisor to discuss his desire to publish a paper on some local history makers, the Howes brothers, he was told he should pair up with Aleman, who has been taking history classes at GCC and has developed a deep interest in local history.

“I’m really interested in the Howes brothers, who were photographers that took a lot of photos of everyday life — buildings, people — in New England,” Reis, who is an assistant archivist for the GCC library, said. “I started working on the project, but it was difficult because I’m taking four classes and have two jobs.”

Reis said Aleman, who is very interested in local and area history, helped him make connections with area historical societies, and share information she had learned over time.

“She’s always giving me pointers,” he said.

Aleman, who lives in Bernardston, grew up on a dairy farm in Shelburne Falls. She attended Arms Academy and graduated from Mohawk Regional High School. She worked for the Five College Consortium for 30 years and retired a year and a half ago. That’s when she started getting more interested in the area and its rich history.

“We’re co-mentoring each other,” Aleman said. “I’m new to the area of history, never took a history course before I retired, so Josh has helped me as much as I have helped him. It’s a very mutual relationship. I think eventually GCC will re-evaluate the program and what it should be called.”

She said she and Reis are sharing a love for digging deep into history and finding the information that fills the gaps each has run into. She said both are teaching and learning from each other, as it should be.

Aleman said while she can share some of her local knowledge and connections, Reis helps her learn how to use technology and how to get back into the mindset of taking classes, as it has been some time since she was in a classroom. She said he encourages her and alleviates her fears, and she does the same for him.

“Carol has a lot of experience,” Reis said. “She’s got stories. When one of us runs into a block in the road, the other helps get over it. It may seem small to some, but when you hit a wall and there’s someone there to help you through it, that’s priceless.”

‘Intergenerational conversations’

Twenty-six-year-old Joe Noble of Wilbraham recently returned to school to take his career in another direction. He is studying computer information systems and has been paired up with retiree Don Simms of Northfield.

“I got an email from Judy Raper outlining the new senior program and I was immediately interested,” Simms said. “I have a lot of business experience, I attend a lot of events at the college, I have kids and grandkids and a daughter who is a teacher. I thought I’d do well in this role.”

He said what he didn’t expect was that Noble would be as much a mentor to him as he is to Noble.

“I got my master’s degree when I was 58, so I just recently went through the back-to-school thing myself,” Simms said.

The two said they talk about all sorts of things, including school and career. They said the program is a fledgling, so they expect, like Reis and Aleman, that it will evolve and the college will recognize that seniors aren’t the only mentors and that it’s a more symbiotic relationship.

“What it has done is fostered intergenerational conversations for us,” Simms said. “I’m sure every situation, every match is different, depending on the people. It’s just such a supportive relationship.”

Noble said Simms has given him a lot of good advice about how to move forward with his education and career.

“We meet every week or two either at the college or somewhere in Greenfield,” Simms said. “I really look forward to it. We have a lot of open-ended conversations.”

Simms said he loves hearing about where Noble is headed, what he’s learning, the challenges he’s facing and the projects he’s involved in.

“I’m definitely learning as much from him as I hope he is from me,” he said.

Noble said Simms’ experience is helpful, because he doesn’t have the experience Simms does, especially when it comes to being an entrepreneur.

“He’s someone I can talk to, but also someone who is helping shape my decisions,” he said. “I’m taking this year to explore things, and Don is doing it with me. It’s nice to have someone else come along the journey.”

Simms said he loves Noble’s energy, spirit and willingness to try new things and take chances.

“It’s definitely mutual,” the two agreed. “That’s really important.”

Meaningful engagement

Raper said according to population estimates from 2018, 22 percent of the people living in Franklin County are 65 years old or older. That means by 2030, it is estimated that 31.5 percent will be older than 65.

She said as the number of seniors in the region increases, it is imperative that GCC develop opportunities to meaningfully engage a population that has contributed talent and time to the community for decades.

The new program provides students with a broader network of support and connections in the community, and they will have the opportunity to build multi-generational relationships, especially those who have lost parents or grandparents.

“This program is closely aligned with our mission, which reads, in part, ‘Lives change for the better every day at Greenfield Community College. Families grow stronger, and so too, does our community,’” Raper said. “Seniors in the region have long been an integral part of the GCC learning community.

“The volunteer program adds another layer of relationship for our students and allows for cross-generational learning and enrichment,” she continued. “Relationships such as these are vital to the success of our students, and will be meaningful for those seniors who participate.”

GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez said, “Our older adults are vital members of our community, and have expressed a desire to continue to be engaged with each other and with younger generations.”

For more information about becoming a senior volunteer, call Raper at 413-775-1819 or email her at: raperj@gcc.mass.edu. You can also visit: gcc.mass.edu/seniors.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.




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