Read With Me 501(c)3 Volunteer Programs
Bringing a love of reading and the joys of learning to our most disadvantaged young children
There is an old saying that sometimes it only takes one or two people to make a difference in our unsteady world – Roberta and Clay Klein are two such people.
In 2003, the Kleins moved from Northern California to the Coachella Valley. They found, as they call it, paradise in their beautifully maintained suburban environment. However, they were appalled to discover that only 30 miles away in the far eastern section of the Coachella Valley, home to thousands of field workers, were living conditions not much different than those found in third world countries. It seemed that lack of proper education was one of the major problems. What could these two new desert residents do to help?
They immediately met with desert leaders and determined the greatest need for community help was in the far eastern valley. They got neighbors to donate to a donor-advised fund at the Desert Community Foundation. $25,000 was raised. They wondered if that was going to be enough. It wasn’t. They learned that the Coachella Valley School District encompassed 1,200 square miles with 23,000 students in attendance. Some of those children lived within the more affluent areas of La Quinta, however, further east in areas with broken down trailer parks (some with no running water, electricity or proper sewage) lived the rest. They were of parents who grew up with very little education and quasi-conversational English. The situation for these children was dire.
If a child is not reading at grade level by the third grade, he or she will not finish high school. To make matters worse, children who dropout of high school often fail to succeed in mainstream society, and this has far-reaching consequences. They are more likely to get in trouble and may spend time in prison.
The Kleins went to Superintendent Tut Pensis and were told, “We need English-speaking role models for the children, people who will come into the classroom, work with the kids one-on-one or in small groups under the teacher’ direction, and help them with their reading and understanding of English. No English is spoken at home in over 90% of the families or in the community. The families want to keep their Hispanic culture and heritage but understand their children need to learn English to succeed in life in this country.”
A plan was set and the school most desirous of help was Mecca School and that is where they started Read With Me. Father Howard Lincoln, a man deeply concerned with the poverty and living conditions in the far eastern part of the valley agreed to let the Kleins form a ministry at that church to recruit volunteers to be the sought out English-speaking role models, tutors and mentors.
“On two separate days in the fall of 2004,” said Roberta, “we took prospective volunteers out on the bus to see the school, the area, the children and the principal. Two hundred people went out just from curiosity and fifty of them committed to go regularly for one morning a week.
Now, Read With Me, has over 750 volunteers going to eight different schools in the desert. The program is designed to have the student read to the volunteer – not the other way around – so that the volunteer can give individual attention to correct grammar and pronunciation and most important, ask questions to make certain the children comprehend what they have read. This individual attention also establishes a love for reading and incentive to learn as well as a mutually enjoyed interaction between the child and the volunteer
Volunteers choose the day of the week they want to volunteer and are matched up with a teacher who needs a volunteer at that time. The teacher assigns the child or children and materials to be used in tutoring.
The volunteers come away with rewards, as well. “What an amazing experience it has been for the past two years,” said volunteer Bob Jensen. “I work with the sweetest kids that you could ever find. They are polite, attentive and loving.”
“The kids seem to thrive on realizing that they are getting better and better,” said volunteers Donna and Hank Simmons, “and we thrive on smiles and being so proud of them.”
The program is run in cooperation with Sacred Heart Church, Palm Desert Presbyterian Church, Hope Lutheran Church, Friendship Church, Southwest Church, St Francis Church, The Joslyn Center and other churches. Each of these provide a volunteer coordinator to recruit volunteers and a pickup spot for buses to transport volunteers to the east valley. Participating schools are Mecca Elementary, Saul Martinez Elementary, John Kelly Elementary, Las Palmitas Elementary, Palm View Elementary and Valley View Elementary. Volunteers are also being recruited for Cathedral City Elementary.