Renee Hardman is so passionate about volunteering that she tears up talking about it.
“I have always thought there was a purpose for our lives here on this earth,” she said. “That purpose is to live beyond ourselves and to always reach back and pull someone else along.”
For 30 minutes every Thursday morning, Renee reads with four-year-olds at Oakridge Academy as part of Book Buddy, a United Way-led initiative to reach children in the critical year before kindergarten. The volunteer program engaged 135 mentors to read at local preschools last year.
Renee sees the benefits in the students who smile when their mentors walk into the room. “Starting those young minds off at age four gets them excited about reading,” Renee said. That ultimately is part of their healthy development that leads to long-term success. Children who participated in Book Buddy had an average increase of 66% in print literacy skills over the 2015-16 school year.