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Giving Back: Former school librarian shares her passion for reading through United Way’s ReadingPals

December 3, 2016

By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union

A retired school librarian, Dotty Risley loves sharing her passion for books, and United Way of Northeast Florida’s ReadingPals initiative become the perfect opportunity to do so.

Dotty Risley enjoys sharing her love of reading as a volunteer ReadingPal through United Way of Northeast Florida. Credit: Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

Where are you a ReadingPal coach?  I coach four children – two pairs – at West Riverside Elementary School. Did you know that it’s the oldest continuously used school in Florida? I went to school there as a child. So this is full circle.

How did you get started? I read about ReadingPals in the newspaper. I read the paper from cover to cover every day.  I was volunteering at a school, but United Way’s program gave me an opportunity to do it in an organized fashion where I could go every week and watch the children’s progress. Being able to see them learn and grow gives you such a feeling of accomplishment.

What changes do you see in the children? The attention spans really increase. This year the boys really got into the books. One boy was extraordinarily shy when he started, and he became Mr. Chit-chat!

Do you have favorite books you use? I love Dr. Seuss, the rhythms of the words he uses and the characters. They’re so memorable. A book like Horton Hatches an Egg can teach children about stick-to-it-ness; it’s one of my favorites.

What is one of your favorite reading memories? One of my favorite reading experiences with children happened when I was a school librarian for Riverside Presbyterian Day School. I had planned on reading Make Way for Ducklings and thought how great it would be to take the children over to the duck pond at Riverside Park. We found a nest with eggs and would go every day until the ducklings hatched. It was really my happiest day.

Where does your passion for children and volunteerism come from? Probably from my mother. She didn’t volunteer, actually. She was too busy working. She was a school secretary. But parents used to come up to her and say: “You’re such an angel. You took such care of my child.” She went above what she needed to do to be kind to children. I wish more people would be like that.

What would you say to someone about ReadingPals? I like how the organization of the program helps you to see how a child grows. The school staff is so appreciative of our efforts, and United Way staff really gives so much of themselves. This program fit my personality and interests so well. I try to do things with the children that parents might not be able to do with them. I like being busy and feeling some sense of contributing to things.

If you are interested in becoming a ReadingPal through United Way of Northeast Florida, visit unitedwaynefl.org/readingpals.