If you watch the news these days, the state of what's happening in the world can seem overwhelmingly negative. That's why I want to share an experience that is a shining example of human connection.

I have been a second-grade teacher for 33 years and have had the pleasure of bringing DARTS Learning Buddies volunteers into my classroom for many of those years. The Learning Buddies program — which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year — connects older adult volunteers from the local community with students on a weekly basis. They pair up for reading exercises, spelling and vocabulary games, math support and more. We've adapted during the pandemic to include virtual visits and some phone calls as well.

Each school year, several older adults visit my classroom weekly to work with my second-graders. There is great value in young people having an older person's outlook, wisdom and friendship.

Older adults also benefit by rediscovering the curiosity and enthusiasm of young people and seeing firsthand what's happening in education today. It truly benefits all involved.

Many of my students say that visits from their "buddy" are the highlight of their week. These volunteers show students that there is more out there than just the four walls of our classroom — including people from all different backgrounds who care and have concern for them and their success.

These intergenerational relationships are truly special. Not all kids have a grandparent close by that they get to see often, but this gives them someone that they get to see every week giving them support and attention.

Programs like this make me proud of our tight-knit community. The life experiences of Learning Buddies volunteers vary greatly, but they all have one important similarity: They want to make a difference in the lives of children. And DARTS helps by providing them with regular training to ensure they have the tools they need to support students.

The Learning Buddies program started with a single volunteer in 1997 and now has 130 volunteers in about 50 schools in Dakota, Scott and Ramsey counties. Since 1997, these volunteers have mentored nearly 80,000 students in our communities.

I want to thank the staff at DARTS — a nonprofit serving seniors in Dakota County and the surrounding area — who do such an incredible job running this program, specifically program manager Erin Walloch. Twenty-five years of enriching our community is definitely worth celebrating, and I hope the program flourishes for generations to come.

And of course, I want to thank not only the Learning Buddies at my school, but the hundreds of other volunteers in the program. You come out of the goodness of your hearts, and you are making an impact. Thank you for making the world better, connecting with kids and giving back.

Alex Messicci teaches second grade at Somerset Heights Elementary School in Mendota Heights.