Reading can unlock a world of possibilities for children like Ananda. “Do you like to come here?" I asked her. "Yes," she nodded. The kindergartner gets the chance to open a book every week with a volunteer from New York Cares. “I really like working with kids so this is a unique opportunity, obviously a lot of enthusiasm, and desire to learn,” Tom Lavander, volunteer, said.
It’s part of the program, 'Bedtime Stories' at a Women in Need shelter in East Harlem. “The point of doing this is to help bring literacy out of the school and into the home, where they feel comfortable and to help reading be something fun and engaging" Ronya Gordon, a volunteer, explained. While the volunteers don’t necessarily come from similar backgrounds, they believe the books connect them.
“It’s really a level playing field, there’s a lot of books in the shelves in this shelter that were on my bookshelf growing up,” Gordon said. "In that sense there’s nothing different.” The one-on-one format gives each child special attention so they feel comfortable. “What I like about reading is that reading helps me learn," Light, one of the children, smiled.
For returning volunteers, the process of seeing the kids develop from day one is the best part. “It’s amazing," another volunteer said. "When you get to see someone finally click with something, it’s really rewarding.” That growth is being recognized by teachers and parents. “She’s only been at her school for a few months but she has already received a reading award,” Angelina, who is Ananda's mother, beamed. "It makes me happy, it makes me proud that she’s learning and using her imagination and interacting with different people."
With nearly 32 million Americans unable to read above a basic level, according to the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy, programs like this hope to spark a passion that will last their entire lives.
“Do you like this book?" I asked Ananda. "Yeah!”
For more information on how you can volunteer, visit newyorkcares.org
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi