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Giving Back: His own educational journey led volunteer to become a ReadingPal

August 15, 2016

David Selin was already volunteering when he became a United Way of Northeast Florida ReadingPal tutor.
David Selin was already volunteering when he became a United Way of Northeast Florida ReadingPal tutor.

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

It was David Selin’s own educational journey that inspired him to sign up to be a United Way of Northeast Florida ReadingPals coach at the Tutor Time preschool on Old St. Augustine Road. He knows firsthand how education and a strong background in reading can influence choices later in life.

“Someone came and spoke at my Kiwanis Club,” Selin said. “I was already volunteering at Reynolds Lane Elementary School and thought, ‘I could do that.’ ”

So Selin added Tutor Time into his volunteering schedule as a ReadingPal. United Way’s ReadingPals initiative matches volunteer readers with pairs of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten to help the children develop early literacy skills.

Selin was dedicated from the start, taking on four pairs of children to coach. He then began reading to the whole class and, this past year, was the pre-kindergarten class “commencement” speaker. He was asked to read from “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” the Dr. Seuss classic.

It was a fitting read for Selin and the students.

Growing up in New York City, Selin struggled in school, having to work hard to get through. He attended the local community college while he watched his brother — because of good grades — have the pick of colleges he wanted. Selin began to look for other ways to get a higher education and give back to the community.

“I was a C student, unlike my brother who always got As,” Selin said. “He could go to any college he wanted, but I had to work for it.”

Under President Lyndon Johnson’s administration in 1965, the Volunteers in Service to America program was recruiting its first cadre to combat poverty across the nation. Selin was part of that group, leaving New York for training in Chicago, eventually serving the jobless in the Mammoth Cave area of Kentucky.

“I went from New York City to a little town like Edmonton, Ky., where the biggest thing was the Sears Outlet,” Selin said.

While Selin helped others find jobs and further their education, he pursued his own. Step by step, he found his way toward the degrees and credentials that would enable him to help others understand how a child grows and develops.

From New York to Chicago to Kentucky and lastly to Jacksonville, Selin brought his experience with education full circle, becoming an adjunct professor teaching developmental psychology.

Selin taught at Florida State College of Jacksonville, Jacksonville University and Jones College before retiring.

So when his Westside Kiwanis Club was asked for ReadingPal volunteers, he knew he could make a difference.

“I get books out of the library for them,” Selin said. “They need to be hands on with a book. I read, but let them turn the pages. Repetition, repetition — psychology says that repetition helps them with both short-term memory and long-term memory. That’s how you retain, how you learn. I am so happy when the kids can read a little.”

The paths to success in school of the ReadingPal children Selin coaches are richer because of his journey.