- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Run into any young person in the city, and there’s a good chance they know Mr. Tig.

The Worcester resident has read a book to tens of thousands of children over the past two decades, after all. And as Melissa Vescera, a teacher in the Head Start program where Mt. Tig, otherwise known as Tignell Richardson, has volunteered on a nearly daily basis since 2000, put it, “he’s not just someone who reads to kids.”

“They look up to him,” she said. “He builds relationships with them … he has this infectious joy.”

“He’s so unique,” said Head Start’s assistant director, Karen Waters. “They know when Mr. Tig is coming to their classrooms - they get so excited about it.”

Mr. Richardson admits he probably gets even more excited about it. Asked why he keeps coming back - he puts in around 2½ hours a day, up to four days a week, reading to kids in Head Start - Mr. Richardson gave a dumbfounded expression.

“I couldn’t have bought this kind of pleasure,” he said. “(At home), I’ll relive moments. It might bring a chuckle; it might bring a tear. And I’ll look forward to the next morning.”

On Thursday, students and teachers celebrated Mr. Richardson’s 90th birthday, as well as his long record of volunteerism with the program. The kids, of course, cheerily listened to Mr. Tig as they sat on their mats with their teachers. A few went up to talk with him or give him a hug. The adults in the room, meanwhile, were mostly dabbing at their eyes, including Mr. Richardson.

As a new nonagenarian, Mr. Richardson is honest about his long life. “The first half of my life, I’ve realized I was an underachiever, and that makes me sad,” he said.

The latter decades of his life he has devoted to volunteerism, however. In 2000, he was looking for something new to do when he got a call from a representative at the RSVP Worcester Area Volunteers.

“Somebody told her I would be good with kids - even I didn’t know that,” he said. “But I thought, what if I can have an effect on some of these kids? And it worked out so much better than I ever thought it would.”

Ms. Waters said Mr. Richardson provides a vital service to the kids of Head Start, a federally funded preschool program run by the Worcester schools that has enrolled 500 to 600 students annually the last few years.

?(Reading aloud) is the single most important factor in developing language skills and knowledge,” she said, and having someone from outside the school do it just enhances the experience for students. “It’s good for children to be exposed to other adults. Some of these kids don’t have males in their lives. Some of them refer to (Mr. Richardson) as grandpa.”

“Having that positive role model is really important,” Ms. Vescera said.

That relationship stays with some students even after they leave Head Start. Mr. Richardson recounted the time he was in the waiting room of an auto repair shop, and a little boy and his mother came in.

“He knew me, but I didn’t know him,” he said. “This child sat next to me with his head on my chest.”

Mr. Richardson knows preschool-age children can be a hard audience to win over.

“Recognize that you can’t fool any of these kids,” he said. “They can see through phoniness … they’ll call you on it in a minute.”

For that reason, he also has developed a healthy respect for the teachers at Head Start, who “do one hell of a job … I’m seeing them handle these kids. I’ve learned how to watch the growth of a child.”

“In my next life, I’m going to be a schoolteacher,” he said.

In this life, however, Mr. Richardson acknowledged he is “at a crossroads,” because of his age. He has a driver’s license renewal exam coming up. He currently drives himself to one of two Head Start programs in the city where he volunteers - and in general, he said, it’s often as much as he can handle each day to make it over to the school.

“You have no idea the joy with which I go home” afterwards, however, he said.


Online: https://bit.ly/2IGCAO7


Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), http://www.telegram.com

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