An enriching partnership

When Ron and Frances Liss retired years ago, they didn’t want to just sit at home and watch TV. The couple instead wanted to volunteer their time and abilities to help others through Temple Beth El, where they’ve attended regularly for

Frances Liss works with a group of kindergarteners at Sterling Elementary School.

Frances Liss works with a group of kindergarteners at Sterling Elementary School.

The two joined the temple’s Special Programs of Interest and Concern for Elders, or SPICE, club – a program for people 50 years old and older – and began participating in various volunteer projects. Through SPICE, the Lisses learned of a need for volunteers at Sterling Elementary School and chose to donate their time to the school on a weekly basis seven years

“We’ve learned the real need that there is and how we can be a really big help (because) it takes a lot to run a classroom and educate children,” Frances Liss said.

The partnership between Temple Beth El and Sterling Elementary has provided individual and group tutoring and other classroom support for years. More than 20 volunteers from the temple – including senior citizens and non-seniors – visit the school at various times throughout the week, providing support to nearly every classroom in the school.

“We have (volunteers) in almost every classroom, others who help out in the library – anything we ask for,” Karen Cetoute, Sterling’s community specialist, said.

Frances Liss visits a kindergarten classroom every Tuesday and works with a small group of children selected by the school to receive additional tutoring. She works with the students on reading, writing and other areas of need.

It’s evident each year how the tutoring benefits children, many of whom don’t know how to write their own name when they enter the classroom at the beginning of the year.

“The ones that have been to preschool, it’s obvious. They really start to catch it right away,” she said. “The ones that have not, it takes them even longer … But, by working with them, you make an impact on a child’s life and let them know that they can succeed.”

Volunteers from Temple Beth El also help run the school’s annual book fair, serve as test proctors and assist teachers with “busy work” – something that allows the teachers to focus more on classroom instruction.

“We go where we’re needed,” Frances Liss said.

Ron Liss, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, provides support through a unique “poetry academy.” The school selects six third-graders for the program each semester, and Ron provides one-on-one tutoring focused primarily on poetry. At the end of the semester, the students in the program choose their favorite self-penned poem and have the opportunity to read it to their entire class.

“I have a huge collection of poems geared toward kids in the third grade,” Ron Liss said. “I try to do fun poems, try to encourage the kids to enjoy themselves, go over difficult words with them … It’s a different approach because a lot of kids don’t usually read poetry.”

The partnership between Sterling and Temple Beth El doesn’t just benefit the students – the volunteers learn a lot from it, as well, he said.

“I love kids, and coming here gives me a chance to get together with kids, and I really love doing that,” Ron Liss said. “If you listen to children, you can always learn things. It’s amazing how much they know and how wise they are.”

Cetoute said the academic success of many students would not be possible without the partnership with the temple. The volunteers’ contribution also fuels kids’ enthusiasm for learning and helps them become more well-rounded students, she added.

“The kids, they love it,” she said. “They are more compassionate because they realize that they have someone that cares. They love showing (the volunteers) progress when they have these small accomplishments.”

Sterling Elementary welcomes a number of volunteers from various organizations in the community including churches, businesses and individuals. People interested in volunteering can call Cetoute at 980-343-3636 or email her at


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