When joining the nonprofit world, Cary Zakon (Wisconsin – Madison, 1991), Dan Weisberg (Michigan, 1979) and Seth Weinberger (Michigan, 1977) never expected to be working with one another. All three brothers are team members at Innovations for Learning, which has been working for more than 20 years to help primary grade teachers be more effective in their pivotal task of teaching students to read. Brothers Weisberg and Zakon work with TutorMate, the volunteer tutoring program arm of the company which helps first-grade students in low-income communities learn to read.
“Working with my two of my brothers is an amazing camaraderie,” Brother Zakon observed, “Dan and Seth have always been mentors to me.”
Brother Weinberger is the executive director of Innovations for Learning while Brother Weisberg serves as the national director and Brother Zakon as the director of operations of the TutorMate program, respectively. It is Brother Weisberg’s job to find the organizations and Brother Zakon’s job to oversee their operation as a partner. The company has grown to 4,500 active tutors from 180 companies in 24 cities and works with businesses like Microsoft Office, Chase Bank and Google.
“These partners encourage their employees to join the volunteer tutor force. Being able to witness the meaningful impact this program has on children is more than rewarding. I hope we can work towards 10,000 tutors by the year 2020,” said Brother Weisberg.
The program is quite simple. Volunteers are paired with a first-grade student for a 30-minute tutoring session once a week throughout the school year. The volunteer can tutor from their office, at home or even on the road as long as they have internet access. Students bond with the tutor over reading exercises and games that build word knowledge.
“We are changing these kids’ life trajectory one-by-one and student-by-student,” exclaimed Brother Zakon, “I find it rewarding on so many levels that we are affecting change on the ground, getting to these students and meeting them in the communities that volunteers may not have known or thought about before.”
“The biggest gift you can give someone is the gift of literacy. A lot of what we do is grass roots, so the time it takes can be the hardest part of the job.”
Being able to see success stories and how tutors impacted a child’s life touches Brother Zakon’s heart. Innovations for Learning is looking to expand its volunteer program this year with Family Portal.
“Many of the students live in a home where the parents may work multiple jobs or just aren’t home enough to help them become literate in their early years. With this additional programming, parents will be able to tutor their students at home. We want to bring families together in whatever way possible.”
For Brother Zakon, TutorMate and Innovations for Learning have brought a peace of mind, motivation and focus in his daily life. “Finding mentors and guidance hasn’t always been easy, but I love feeling harmony with my family, work and community.” Brother Weisberg agreed, quoting a plaque on his father’s desk that reads, “Minds are like parachutes – they function only when open.”
To learn more about TutorMate or volunteer, visit: http://www.innovationsforlearning.org/tutormate/.