cjChase and his twin brother were three years old when they entered the Shared Visions program at Perry Child Development Center. Chase is outgoing and eager to take charge – often answering for his twin. With that, he sometimes struggles to comply with standard classroom rules and expectations.

As Book Buddy was new to the Perry Child Development Center, and the kids were a little younger than the typical “buddy,” staff were unsure if the program would be successful. But as the first couple of weeks got underway, Chase and his fellow students looked forward to when their Book Buddy friends would come to read with them.

Book Buddy is a volunteer reading and mentor program funded by Women United of United Way of Central Iowa. Using an engaging curriculum and library of 25 books, volunteers read one-on-one with a student and work with them to complete specific literacy skills. To extend the learning beyond the classroom, the children get to bring home their own copy of the featured book every week to start a library at home, where books are often scarce. 

Just as the staff needed to work out the “kinks” of a new program, Chase also had to work through some adjustments. At first, he was eager to be up, moving, and interacting with someone new. But as time passed, he started to show more interest in the reading and activity, which turned into excitement when he’d see Jose, his Book Buddy, walk in the door.

Jose, a local high school student, was also new to the Book Buddy program. At first, he was a little uncertain about reading with kids. Despite their hesitations, they both learned to trust one another, gained invaluable lifelong skills, and created a friendship throughout the school year.

“I experienced first-hand how to interact with younger children and how to help them learn in a way they can understand,” Jose said. “I had a great experience bonding and building friendships with Chase and other preschoolers. When I would walk in the class, kids would run up to me and give me a hug or a high five. They did more than reading, they learned how to get closer with me and be themselves.”

As the school year continued, Chase became more involved and engaged during regular classroom time. When reading independently or with the class, he would make connections from stories to real-life events. At the age of three, he recognized letters and their associated sounds. Though the students are exposed to several types of learning experiences throughout the day, Chase’s teachers reported that having the one-on-one experience with Book Buddy has furthered Chase’s literacy skills and social interactions.

“It helps more than the students,” Jose said. “The skills I gained from Book Buddy helped me with my reading, too, and it taught me how to build friendships with and teach younger kids. I would like to do it again next year!”

If you enjoy reading, believe in the power of literacy and want to make a positive change in a child's life, consider being a Book Buddy volunteer. Visit unitedwaydm.org/book-buddy to learn more and sign up to be a new volunteer. 

TAGS: Education

Vanessa Sedrel

About The Author: Vanessa Sedrel

Vanessa Sedrel is the former Community Investments Manager and current volunteer contractor for United Way of Central Iowa.