Take the time to help a child with reading

Published 9:47 am Saturday, June 18, 2011

by Anne Bryant

Tuesday, June 21, is the longest day of the year, with more daylight hours than any other.

What can you do with this day to improve your community?

On June 21, United Way will launch an ambitious goal to recruit 1 million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors. There is something for everyone with the passion and commitment to get things done.

United Way Worldwide held several nationwide town hall meetings on education. It is no surprise to any of us that people are concerned about the quality of education – not just learning the “3 R’s,” but also learning moral values.

People believe that good schools and good communities go hand in hand – that what is good for one is good for the other. And that it is the community as a whole that makes our schools work.

Americans have spoken and the consensus is out: Improving education is a community responsibility. Today, fewer Americans are likely to earn a diploma than their parents, a distinction not shared by any other industrialized country.

Sometimes kids just need someone who believes in them. Join United Way and come together with friends, family and neighbors to show the power of “Living United.” Volunteer reading or tutoring one hour each week can change the life of a young person. If a million of us do it, it will change America.

In our area, nearly 25 percent of our young people don’t graduate from high school. And 20 percent are not ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

Reading is linked to high school success. That’s because children are learning to read for the first few years of school, but after fourth grade, they’re reading to learn. Without strong reading skills, they fall behind, disengage and often drop out.

United Way has a goal to cut the national dropout rate in half by 2018. But United Way can’t do it alone. That’s why we want 1 million people — including young adults, retirees, faith communities and employees — to join us over the next three years. Anyone with passion and commitment can help a young person achieve greater academic success. Volunteers can make the difference.

How can you help?

First, establish how much time you have available and whether you would rather read to children or be a tutor. Each activity will have a different time commitment. Check the requirements.

Depending on your role (reader or tutor), you may have to be trained. In addition, because you are working with children, it is likely you will need a background check done.

Test the waters before you jump in. If you are new to volunteering with small children, you may start as a volunteer reader. Being a reader is fairly simple; readers just have to know how to read, commit to reading to children on a regular basis and share the joy of reading a story aloud to children.

Explore the possibilities. If you are ready for a bigger challenge, you can become a tutor. Volunteer tutors also go to classrooms and other educational environments to help children learn reading skills.

Typically one tutor is paired with one student, and there may be a specific curriculum that the volunteer is asked to follow. Because of the one-on-one relationship, a fairly frequent time commitment may be necessary.

Share the joy. As you read or tutor, let others know about it. Recruit others. After hearing about your experience, others may want to join you. Be sure they share your understanding of the issues and your commitment to the children. Creating your volunteering group and volunteering together multiplies your impact and can be a lot of fun.

Where can you volunteer? There are so many possibilities.

Call the office at the elementary schools to ask about reading opportunities. The Franklin and Courtland branches of the library have summer reading programs.

Check with your local day-care centers. Read to your children, grandchildren, neighbor’s children. Ask at your church if any kids need reading help. Call the Boys & Girls Club at 562-7350.

Take action today! Call. Commit. Change a life.

Want to know more? Volunteer resources and the United Way education report are posted on the Franklin-Southampton Area United Way website at www.franklinunitedway.org, or contact me at uw@uwfranklinsouthampton.org.

ANNE BRYANT of Sedley is executive director of Franklin-Southampton Area United Way. Her e-mail address is uw@uwfranklinsouthampton.org.