The fifth and final phase of our bookcase project is Reading to Children and we are now doing this each week. What a blessing it has been to our readers and especially for the children. Many of these children do not have a male role model in their home, or if they do, it is not a positive one that will foster the kinds of values these children need for success later in life.These children need love and affirmation that they have value as a human being.
Here is the third important side note: We have placed the emphasis on reading to children in our two Head Start Centers because this is what worked for us. One of the reasons is because the director was on our committee and saw the value of our project. However, this bookcase, books and reading project will be effective in any area where there are young children in low income families who need to improve reading skills, along with love and affirmation. We also have children who live in our Housing Authority units, who are already in school, to whom we have given bookcases and books. We are making plans to have college students read to these children and are in the process of working out the schedule.
Almost from the beginning of this project, those of us on our committee realized this would only be a starting point. If we were going to maximize our investment of time and resources, we must be able to spend some quality time each week to read to these children and interact with them on a consistent and sustained basis.
Talk with elementary teachers and most will tell you they can definitely tell the difference in children whose parents have read to them in their formative years, as opposed to children whose parents did not read to them. With the glaring statistic that 80% of the children in our local Head Start program come from single parent homes, we knew what needed to be done. Our task at this point was getting organized, put a plan in place and -- to quote the Nike commercial -- "Just do it."
A few weeks after we began, Jeremy Glover from the Log Cabin Democrat, went by one of the Head Start Centers, interviewed a couple of our readers, took photos and his article appeared a few days later on the front page. His article inspired several local people to get in touch us and they are already scheduled to be readers in our next cycle. This brings us to a very important question: How do you get the reading phase organized and where do you find the people who are willing to volunteer to read to these children?
The first step is to find a person who is well organized and who is willing to be the coordinator for the project. We had the right person already on our committee. Ramona Aragon, wife of Police Chief Randall Aragon stepped forward. She got the project organized and has both a regular reader list and a list of others who are substitutes and will fill in when there is a need. We decided on a schedule of each person reading for only one hour each week, for a period of six weeks.
When it comes to securing readers who are willing to serve, they can be found in churches, civic clubs, AARP, Senior Citizens Centers, colleges and universities, police and fire departments, members of our committee and other members of the community who we could call celebrities. There is no limit to the number of people who are willing to help. Seniors, retirees and others who control their own schedules are perfect. All that's necessary to get them involved is to let them know there is a need.
After we receive a commitment from a reader, our chairman sends them a letter of thanks, and the dates, time and location where they will be reading. She also includes an "Orientation Packet"
that contains goals, objectives and how their participation can make a difference. On the last page of the packet there is a list of books that we have purchased for readers to use while reading to the children and these are kept in our own "Conway Bookcase Project" bookcase at the centers. However, all our readers are encouraged to bring their own favorite books to use if they prefer.
Since the attention span of these children is fairly short, we suggest reading sessions be no more than 20 to 30 minutes with from four to ten children in each session. Many times the children's teacher will also be present but all these details should be worked out in advance with the director of the Head Start program. We should always remember that we are invited guests at the Head Start Centers and strive to respect the rules and guidelines that are already in place. We believe our theme for the reading phase pretty well sums it up: "Make the time they spend with us the highlight of their day." In addition to the time we read to them, we want to also teach these children character values, respect and good manners. In our society today we see so many people who can read but they are failing life, because no one cared enough or took the time to teach these important life skills.