by KELLEY GUSICH | photos by Alan Smith Photography

Helping Our Kids

volunteer_brainard2Karen Brainard moved to the Seven Oaks community of Rancho Bernardo 13 years ago. She loves the small-town feeling she finds there, with friendly people, great residents, and many opportunities to volunteer – all important elements for Karen in retirement, after more than 20 years working in prisons. “I love to cook and the neighborhood looks forward to my homemade cookies and candies at holiday times,” she shared.

About three months after moving to RB, she received a call about Seniors Helping Our Kids (SHOK), a volunteer organization whereby retirees tutor students grades 1-3 who need reading help, and has been volunteering ever since. As the lead volunteer at Los Peñasquitos Elementary School, Karen begins her school year in early September, contacting teachers to see if they have children who would benefit from tutoring, and then following up with volunteers, checking for preferences as far as number of children, dates, and times the volunteers wish to work. “After I hear from teachers and tutors, the work begins assigning students and tutors to accommodate the needs of both groups,” Karen explained. “We only tutor in reading to the children and they must be fluent in English. Currently we are working with seven teachers in grades one through three and, including myself, we have a team of 17 volunteers tutoring 31 students.”


Name: Karen Janet Brainard
Community: Rancho Bernardo
Volunteer Affiliation: Seniors Helping Our Kids
Profession: Retired from State of California Department of Corrections
Family: Daughter – Gina Uyeda; son-in-law – Matt Uyeda; granddaughters – Lily (12) and Karlyn (9)
Hobbies & Interests: Quilting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and most any other craft I’ve tried. I took three semesters of woodworking at Palomar College and have a clock, cabinet, and ukulele to show for my efforts!
Favorite Local Spots: Joann Fabric and Crafts, CPK, and Angelika movie theater

Helping children who need reading support can be difficult, especially with readers who struggle. The most challenging part for Karen occurs when a child is not motivated and may not be getting the support needed at home. The role of a SHOK volunteer is extremely important to give that child the adult role model he or she needs. On the other hand, “The most rewarding part of this work is watching a young child improve in his or her reading skills and self-confidence as the year progresses,” Karen smiled.


There are SHOK volunteers in 22 elementary schools in the Poway Unified School District; Karen would love to someday have volunteers in all PUSD schools. “An interested community member can contact our coordinator, Jane Radatz. You will be trained and given supplies and tools to help you work with the children,” she shared. “My wish would be that every child who needs our help gets it.”

Name of Group: Seniors Helping Our Kids (SHOK)
Purpose/Mission: To assist first through third grade students with reading skills and self-confidence in the academic setting.
Contact: Jane Radatz, 858-485-5449 or