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Living United is Sharing My Passion

December 2, 2014

LIVE UNITED is a call to reach out a hand to one and improve the quality of life for all. It’s about impact, passion and action. In the series “Living United is…”, we share personal posts from our staff about how and why they choose to live united.
We are excited to share this week’s “Living United is…” blog from Melissa Elgersma, our Early Literacy Coordinator. Her personal story connects the dots.
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Growing up, to quote The Breakfast Club, “my home life [was] less than satisfying.”  Books offered me a way to escape–a place where I could be anything, do anything. I’d lose myself for hours in great books like Harriet the Spy and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I’d read Judy Blume by flashlight in the middle of the night.

As I got older, I maintained my love of reading. I became a children’s librarian and literacy program coordinator. I was school librarian at a Title I elementary school in inner city Denver where I hosted a book fair and coordinated our RIF program. I coordinated a county-wide preschool traveling library program in a rural community during my VISTA year. It’s safe to say, my passion is to inspire kids to love reading.

Melissa Elgersma celebrates with Florida Blue and their ReadingPals superheroes at the May 6, 2014 Appreciation Breakfast.
Melissa Elgersma celebrates with Florida Blue and the ReadingPals superheroes at the 2014 appreciation breakfast.

Books do all sorts of wonderful things–increase vocabulary, improve comprehension and fluency–they also bring joy. I think of children who grow up in homes without books and I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes. Dr. Perri Klass (National Medical Director of the early literacy pediatrics program Reach Out and Read) said, “When I think of a child growing up in a home without books, I have the same visceral reaction I would to a child growing up without food.”

It’s not just because they miss out on the critical skills books help develop. It’s because having a robust home library can be an indicator of whether or not a child will go to college. It is so heartbreaking because children in homes without books don’t get to experience the intangibles of reading. I think of the joy I get from re-reading a favorite book and the comfort books have brought me in difficult times. My world view has expanded because of things I read in books. Books helped me develop empathy. Recent studies show that people who read more fiction are also less likely to be lonely.

As ReadingPals Coordinator for United Way, I match passionate, committed volunteers with pairs of four-year-olds who need a little extra support getting ready for kindergarten. Our volunteers inspire children to love reading and share the joy of books (and learning) with their students.”