I see volunteering time with others as joy-filling because we experience first-hand the positive effect we have on others’ lives. I am proud to live in Jacksonville, a community I find has many passionate volunteers. Through ReadingPals, I have found my passion.
I have discovered the importance and impact I can have mentoring 4-year-olds in our most challenged neighborhoods. Sharing and caring for just 30 minutes a week, watching my children soak up my individual attention, has awakened me to the power we all have to love.
When one of my ReadingPals asked me, “Why are you so nice to me?” I realized just how much simple gestures of caring and concern mean to a young child. Of course, seeing progress made in school reading readiness is our goal, but being able to love them in the process is what has changed my life.
As this past year progressed, I became more and more determined to demonstrate unconditional love because I could see how very much it means to these little ones to have a caring, engaged adult reinforcing learning in an individual setting. These preschoolers are like sponges waiting to soak up everything around them, yet at the beginning of the year, I found them lacking in very basic skills, such as following directions and listening actively to a book.
Over the course of the year, each student improved dramatically, with some even beginning to read. However, I felt like even more had been accomplished with one of my youngest boys, who in September could not sit still for even 10 minutes. By the last session, we were sitting together, reading quietly and discussing interesting sections of the book.
Best of all, according to my pal, we got to paint! Because one of our books shows how our primary colors become orange, purple, and green, I brought paint in to experiment. Just wearing the paint shirt made him excited, but he never tired of mixing the paints (and the water) to see magical colors appear. The ReadingPals program makes it easy to teach the skills they need in a variety of ways so that activities can be tailored to children’s abilities and likes.
I am returning to my high-need center this year and I hope to have lunch with my former pals who have moved on to kindergarten, in addition to working with a new group of 4-year-olds.
This program is really about giving hope and showing our youngest citizens a bigger world through books and personal interaction, so that they have a better foundation to succeed both in school and in life. What better way to help our community with the issues that plague our poverty-stricken areas than to start with our youngest? We will all be changed for the better…