Joan Tupper is the Senior Volunteers in Action (SVA) volunteer of the month for September. She was nominated by Michelle North, Program Manager at San Pasqual Academy of Neighbors (SPAN). San Pasqual Academy is a high school campus/residence where older adults, 55 years and older, live on campus with foster youth. They enrich the students’ lives by serving as surrogate “grandparents” to them.
The “grandparents” are senior volunteers who work with the students to teach them life skills, as well as to provide the youth with a family-type atmosphere. They teach the students skills such as how to cook and paint. They coach them in sporting activities, celebrate holidays with them, and have parties and barbecues with the students. The older adults do the things that families might normally do with a young person; they try to fill in those gaps for the students. The volunteers derive a deep sense of purpose and meaning by helping the youth. Students, in turn, contribute by enriching the older adults’ lives with their vitality and energy. And, their resilience is an inspiration. There is much to be learned from one another! These relationships help to prevent depression in both the older adults and the youth definitely a “win/win” situation.
Joan Tupper is the longest-serving volunteer in the program, starting at its inception in 2003. Joan is known to be a favorite of the students and is consistently rated at a high level in student surveys. In addition to teaching life skills to the youth, she spends time simply connecting with and enjoying the company of the students. Joan watches movies with the youth and plays games with them. She also does the hemming for the students’ prom dresses and tuxedos. When Joan was working, she would be sure to leave work early to see them off on that special night.
Joan is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and learned to cook gourmet dishes while living abroad. She shares her travel experiences with the students through cooking and baking with them. Her specialties are Chinese wontons and chocolate truffles. She also shares travel stories with the students and encourages them to expand their horizons however they can, such as by pursuing study abroad programs.
Before retiring from her full-time job in 2018, Joan would come back home to the campus after work and visit a different house each night to spend time with the students. Upon her retirement, Joan had more time to spend with the students and made connecting with them a top priority. Joan was consistent with her visits until the Covid-19 pandemic prevented her from doing so. To stay connected during the pandemic, she makes treats for the youth, which staff deliver to their houses. She also checks in regularly by phone.
Joan truly loves the students, and this is evident in the way she treats them. She always made a special effort to reach out to the youth and particularly to connect with students who are less outgoing. Joan strives to make all the youth at SPAN feel included, important, and special.
Michelle North describes Joan as “positive, helpful, and most of all, kind”. Michelle also notes that “the kids love her because she reaches out to them. Joan isn’t shy, and she has open arms for all the students. She invites each child into her life”. After the students graduate, they often come back to visit the “grandparents,” and they are sure to visit Joan.
San Pasqual Academy Neighbors (and their foster youth) are very lucky to have Joan in their midst! Congratulations, Joan, and thank you for all that you do!