When John McCarroll began volunteering 20 years ago with Literacy Volunteers of America, he helped immigrants learn English so they could study for – and pass – the U.S. Citizenship Test. His students came from many countries including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Venezuela, Peru and Russia. John continued this work after he retired from his sales career and moved from New Jersey to Florida with Clare, his wife of 44 years.
“I will always remember the total joy and exuberance of all those who became American citizens,” he recalls.
John also mentored inmates in New Jersey and Florida prisons, with admittedly mixed results. “The success stories were fewer than anyone would have liked,” he said, “but we treasured the positive outcomes.”
In Florida, John looked for new opportunities and contacted the local ARC. His interview went reasonably well until he was asked, “What would you do?” John wasn’t sure, but explained that he likes to read and would be happy to read to the early morning class. “This worked out tremendously well,” he said. “I loved them, and they tolerated me!” Soon, some students formed a group to read independently. “It wasn’t easy going – but we all persevered, had fun and continued right up to Covid, which shut us down,” he explained.
After the COVID outbreak, John and Clare moved to Virginia to be close to their sons and grandson. When fears of Covid began to lessen, he sought out new volunteer opportunities and discovered SOAR365. “The rest is history!” he declares.
“I have not been here long, but it feels like home,” he said. “The staff is super supportive of the participants – and me – and the participants are the world’s best. I love each and every one of them; they carry me through each day.”
After John asked his reading group to choose a book, they began with “Charlotte’s Web” – followed by “The Wizard of OZ” and “Alice in Wonderland.” After that, the next book will be “Cinderella”!
The group also reads sections of Richmond Times-Dispatch. Their favorites include weather reports (both local and from other areas they’ve lived in) as well as astrology.
“As a group, we have decided that happiness is a combination of having friends and having something to look forward to,” explains John. “Both of my happiness components are easily gained through the SOAR365 participants and staff.”
Describing himself as “old and cantankerous – if you listen to my wife,” John says he is full of love and joy. “Each day is a gift that I dare not waste,” he says. “I run through Pocahantas Park
every morning, I read every day and I thank the Lord for my family and friends.” Including all of his new friends at SOAR365.