RSVP volunteer innovates to help special needs students

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By Rob Paine, RSVP Northern Virginia Outreach and Marketing Specialist 

Lead photo by Bob Baker

RSVP-Northern Virginia volunteer Ken Kozloff doesn’t just enjoy leaving his comfort zone, he thrives on it.

Ken Kozloff began his volunteer career before retirement.

The Springfield, Va., resident who turned 72 in August, says he had no experience working with special needs children but it was something he always wanted to do. He began volunteering as an Adaptive Aquatics volunteer at a Fairfax County Park Authority recreation center, teaching children on the autistic spectrum how to swim. 

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Please click flyer to enlarge

Kozloff took a studious approach to his new role. He says he quickly realized that working with special needs students “takes an inordinate amount of patience.”  His patience and time paid off as his students began to experience the joy of swimming a full lane of the pool at Providence RECenter where he volunteers four Sunday mornings a month. He also volunteers with Adaptive  Aquatics at Spring Hill RECenter on four Sunday afternoons a month 

“The big thing that I get out of volunteering is the satisfaction of helping others,” he says.  “I love to help others, find out what their goals are and help them achieve them, whether it is teaching an autistic child to swim from one side of the pool to the other,  teaching a stroke patient who would like to learn to swim again or helping a child who wants to swim on a Special Olympics team.”

To register for an upcoming RSVP ” Art of Volunteering in Retirement,”  seminar, please visit www.rsvpnova.org, where you will also see a list of other seminar dates. You can also call RSVP program manager Brandi Morris at 703-403-5360.

Kozloff joined RSVP-Northern Virginia nearly five years ago and not only volunteers for several of RSVP’s partners but also is an RSVP engagement leader, acting as a nonprofit evangelist of sorts, spreading the word on why RSVP is such a great program.  “What’s unique about RSVP is the approach it takes to new volunteers, helping them to find what they’re looking to do, not where we are looking to place them,” Kozloff says.

RSVP-Northern Virginia, (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program)  a program of Volunteer Fairfax, Volunteer Arlington and Volunteer Alexandria,  is the region’s largest volunteer network for people 55 or over and provides personalized support to individuals seeking meaningful and fun service opportunities in and around Fairfax County, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria. 

RSVP Volunteer Ken Kozloff
Kozloff first worked with special needs children  as a volunteer with  Fairfax County Park Authority’s Adaptive  Aquatics program., something  he continues to do. (Photo by Rob Paine/ RSVP-Northern Virginia)

Kozloff was so successful that the Fairfax Park Authority honored him with an award for his volunteer work in Adaptive  Aquatics, and he began training and supervising other volunteers and started teaching the same class at another county park, (Spring Hill),  this time helping stroke victims return to the water.

In retirement Kozloff expanded his volunteer portfolio to include helping local high school students become financially literate through another RSVP partner program, Junior Achievement.  Several times a month he would visit schools throughout Northern Virginia teaching the ins and outs of personal finance. 

Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students in grades K-12 about financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship.

One day it occurred to him, why couldn’t the JA curriculum be shared with special needs students too?

He again set sail out of his comfort zone, thinking the success he had teaching swimming could transfer to teaching financial literacy. To the best on anyone’s knowledge, it was something JA had never tried before. 

JA agreed it was a good idea and Kozloff  worked with a special needs  teacher at nearby Oakton High School who gave Kozloff the green light.

“Working with children on the autistic spectrum is not for everyone,” Kozloff says. “It takes an inordinate amount of patience.”

Kozloff’s first step was to observe a special needs class at the school. “I wanted to see how I could adapt the JA program to suit their needs,” he says. 

To develop an effective curriculum for special needs students at a high school, Kozloff figured he would have to take the same approach he took with primary grade students who were not special needs children. 

It was important for the classes to be interactive, he says. His goal was to teach the concept of business and the role it plays in everyday life. He says teaching financial and life skills concepts to special needs students is a longer process. “It’s all about teaching to the individual instead of to entire class.”

Repetition and habit are important for success he says. Kozloff always tries to teach the each school’s classes on the same day and time each week. 

The most critical thing, he says when teaching special needs children is  “to cheer and celebrate your students accomplishments”

After Kozloff’s success teaching financial literacy at Oakton High School, he expanded the  program (now  called JA Life Skills Learning) to Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Falls Church (where  the JA in a Day program was started); Drew Model Elementary School and other middle schools and elementary schools in the area. 

“The teachers at Sleepy Holllow were fantastic,” Kozloff says. He has now been volunteering at the school through JA for four years.  At the elementary school, Kozloff teaches students life skills, and shows students how to recognize road signs and helps them to be able to point out on a map where critical places like hospitals are, he says. 

Some of Kozloff’s Oakton pupils have gone on to take classes as part of a special program at George Mason University in Fairfax. Others now hold jobs. Kozloff was also asked to be a volunteer swim coach with the Special Olympics last fall something he plans to do again this September between coordinating volunteers at the Northern Virginia Senior Olympics and his other volunteer work.

Kozloff  enjoys his engagement leader role, working with other volunteers and letting them know how important it is to make other people feel good. RSVP asks each prospective volunteer, “How can we help you find that volunteer opportunity that is going to mean something to you?” Kozloff says.  

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Kozloff speaks to volunteers during a RSVP service project and meet and greet in Herndon. (Photo by Rob Paine/RSVP-Northern Virginia)

Kozloff told a recent group of new RSVP recruits “What you get back (from volunteering) is like 20 times more than what you are giving.”  Kozloff always implores new volunteers to venture outside of their comfort zone.

In addition to patience, what does it take to be a volunteer working with special needs students?

“It takes a can do attitude,” the retired hospital CEO says. “You are going to have to keep the main thing the main thing. You have to focus 100% of your attention on what you are doing and be able to easily make changes on the fly. Every class, every day is different,” Kozloff says. 

As is the case with all volunteering Kozloff says, “You have to make it fun and make it enjoyable.”

Those interested in learning more about RSVP or in signing up for an upcoming  RSVP info session should contact RSVP-Northern Virginia Volunteer Specialist Brandi Morris   at 703-403-5360  or visit the RSVP website at www. rsvpnova.org.

More about RSVP-Northern Virginia 

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RSVP-Northern Virginia, the largest volunteer group for seniors and retirees in the region,  offers more than 300 meaningful, fun and social volunteer opportunities that include helping seniors age in place, assisting local food pantries, supporting local parks and teaching financial literacy.

RSVP also recruits volunteers for various community events including the annual Northern Virginia Senior Olympics taking place Sept. 14-28. Several of RSVP’s nonprofit partners offer opportunities in the Alexandria Area including New Hope Housing, Green Spring Gardens, United Community (Formerly UCM Alexandria) and Huntley Meadow Park.

RSVP volunteers enjoy flexible schedules, free accident and liability insurance while serving, optional mileage and meal reimbursement and are also invited to monthly volunteer group service projects, free training and enrichment classes and social gatherings.

To learn more about RSVP, please visit www.rsvpnova.org.

RSVP-Northern Virginia is a program of Volunteer Fairfax, Volunteer Alexandria and Volunteer Arlington.

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