Program links male volunteers with early childhood centers

man sitting at table with group of preschoolers

By his own description, Josh Komives is “a bigger guy,” and there’s usually no shortage of giggles as he takes part in cartoon-led yoga sessions with a classroom of preschoolers.

Both students and teachers “get the biggest kick out of me being silly,” said Komives, a service coordinator at the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “As for my own well-being and happiness, and satisfaction with the job, being able to do this for an hour or so each week means so much. It has really helped ground me and keep me positive.”

Komives began volunteering earlier this year through the Beacon program, a pilot led by FCBDD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator Sean Patterson to recruit male staff members to volunteer in the agency’s Early Childhood Education centers.

Patterson sees it as a win on all sides: Children benefit from positive interaction with males; teachers get a helping hand from a caring colleague; volunteers receive a brief respite from their caseloads and learn more about early intervention services.

Comparatively few men work in the field of early childhood education. Most of the children seem to be thrilled to have the volunteers visit, said Patterson, who started stopping by ECE classrooms shortly after he began his new DEI position in January 2023. “There’s real excitement on these kids’ faces to see men walking in,” he said.

Teresa Johnson, Associate Director in the Early Childhood Education program, spoke highly of the pilot effort. “The novelty of having a male in the classroom has proven to be just life-altering for some of these kiddos.”

Komives traces some of his enthusiasm for the Beacon program to his father, who was a Columbus City Schools elementary teacher. “He had often mentioned that it’s pretty amazing how some of the kids respond,” Komives said.

Oftentimes, even before he gets inside a classroom at the FCBDD Early Childhood Learning Community, “I can hear this chorus of ‘Mr. Josh is here! Mr. Josh is here!’” he said. “It’s been a huge benefit for me, and if I can get others involved, that’s great.”