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Gary Rose, Paying It Forward


New Yorker by birth, but a Philadelphian at heart, Gary Rose wears a few hats.  A retired lawyer, he also ran his father’s business in New York for 25 years, designing wholesale costume jewelry for department stores.  Exhausted from commuting between New York and Philadelphia, Gary decided to retire after receiving an offer to buy the family business.

“I was sitting around doing nothing, so I started volunteering at a senior center, teaching tablet and smartphone classes.  I was looking for more opportunities to give back and came across the  volunteer program through the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy,” Gary said.

Gary enrolled in The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy’s Volunteer Mentor Training program in September of 2014.  He recalls his experience with his first learner as being a bit challenging because the learner, like many adult learners, was struggling to balance life, work and family.

“At one point I had to tell him to pick a lane—school or work, because he wasn’t doing either of them well,” explained Gary. “I was trying to get him to understand: school is where you need to be and work is where you have to be. He had young twin boys so work was where he had to be, but I hoped eventually he would be able to come back to school.”

In the summer of 2015, he was presented with the opportunity to start co-reading with a learner from The Commission’s myPLACE℠  partner, District 1199c Training and Upgrading Fund.  He was paired with  Viola Robinson, who is currently taking classes to obtain her GED.  They have been reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, which came from her cervical cancer cells in 1951. The book is well-known for its scientific writing and  the ethical issues of race and class in medical research.

“Co-reading this particular book with Viola has ignited some heated, deep and positive discussions,” Gary said with a smile.

“Viola is great to work with! She is very motivated. She is smarter than she thinks she is. I think it is important that she challenges herself and holds herself accountable but, I also want to make her excited about learning. “

When asked what some of the benefits of mentoring are, Gary said, “It’s always interesting and rewarding to see someone benefitting from the process. Viola has been so interested in this book and motivated to read it.  We set some goals in the beginning and she always wants to go above and beyond the goals we set. I’ve gotten so much out of reading this with Viola and sharing our different perspectives on the text.”

Gary’s advice for future mentors:

Finding a book or something that you are both interested in helps the process. It gives you a common ground.

Always be available to answer questions.

Don’t be judgmental.

Set goals and try your best to stick with them, but remember that it is a learning process for both of you.

“My goal is to challenge the learner and to understand the different parts of their lives that are competing for their time,” said Gary. It’s all about that one-on-one connection.  As a mentor, you realize just how impactful this connection can be for someone else. That impact far exceeds the amount of time you put in.”


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