Everyday Heroes: Pickerington's Doug Arnold provides tutoring to at-risk children during pandemic

Pickerington resident Doug Arnold's pandemic teachings have a lasting impact on the children at LSS CHOICES domestic violence shelter.

Eliana Wright
Columbus Monthly
Doug Arnold photographed at Wesley Ridge in Reynoldsburg on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

Doug Arnold would not consider himself a mathematician. Or a writer. Or a science wiz. Or even a teacher. But when he steps through the doors of Lutheran Social Services CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, the Pickerington resident becomes all of that and more.

Since October 2020, Arnold has dedicated more than 100 hours to volunteering at LSS CHOICES as a Study Buddy in the organization’s child care unit.

Study Buddies, created in October 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a program of LSS CHOICES, a shelter that provides safe, healing spaces for victims of domestic violence. Jennifer Hamilton, director of communications for Lutheran Social Services, says at least half of the residents at CHOICES are children. So when in-person school suddenly stopped, so did the children’s usual way of learning — and CHOICES wanted to help.

“It started as kind of a homework-help program where the kids could come and get dedicated one-on-one work with our educational assistant and the volunteers,” said  Leslie Scott, the family service coordinator at LSS CHOICES. During that time, Scott said the children could receive additional help with their homework and fill in the education gaps that arose once virtual learning began.

Study Buddies program helps children impacted by domestic violence

Scott said thanks to Arnold’s dedication to the children and advocation for the program, Study Buddies grew into a consistent platform for CHOICES to help children learn and grow outside of the classroom.

Arnold, who is now 59, retired from American Electric Power where he was a principal market risk analyst when he was only 55 years old. With so much free time, he began to ask himself the question: “Why have I been blessed with this opportunity?” That led to another question: “What can I do to help give back to others?”

And the answer was to volunteer his time to people who needed it. 

Since then, his energy has been generously dedicated to myriad organizations that need volunteers like him.

Childhood death of sister inspired Doug Arnold's volunteerism

Arnold said one of the most profound experiences he’s ever had, that still inspires his volunteer work today, was the loss of his younger sister when he was just 9 years old.  At such a young age, Arnold said it affected the way he grew as a person. It taught him to be respectful and patient with other people, and to always give them the benefit of the doubt. “I think that’s where a lot of my patience comes from,” he said.

Scott said Arnold brings those values to CHOICES every day. “He is so patient with the kids,” she said, “and I think they need to see that. Just adults, especially men, being patient and understanding.”

One of Arnold’s favorite experiences at CHOICES was teaching math to a little boy. “He was starting to get into his times tables, and so he was talking about some things, and so I talked to him about how you multiply by 10, and he just picked it up in a snap,” Arnold said.

To Arnold, it may have seemed like a one-time thing, an experience he shared with just one child. But Scott said the experience had a much larger impact. “Doug doesn’t know this part,” Scott said, sitting across the desk from Arnold during a recent interview. “But the little boy he was talking about in the beginning still constantly asks staff and other volunteers to quiz him on math. That’s become his thing — he’s doing it with other kids, so that one positive interaction has spread and has become many positive interactions.” A look of satisfaction came across Arnold’s face, and soon Scott was smiling, too.

Because of Arnold, CHOICES will continue the Study Buddy program into the next school year, to help kids reach their potential outside of the classroom.

“His consistency, and the fact that we could rely on Doug and the families could rely on Doug, which is even more important, allowed us to grow the program. And it’s going to continue on next school year, even though the kids are returning to school,” Scott said.