Athena Intros is mother to four children between the ages of 6 and 11, two of them with special needs. Though her children keep her very busy, she makes time three days a week in the summer for a program dear to her heart. Intros is a volunteer with the United Way’s Summer Reading Spots program.
The Summer Reading Spots Initiative collects donations of children’s books at businesses throughout Lane County and beyond. OCCU branch locations and corporate office are collecting new and gently used children’s books July 6-20 to benefit the Summer Reading Spots Initiatives. The books will be taken to Summer Reading Spots at parks in the Eugene/Springfield area, including Cottage Grove. The United Way partners with FOOD for Lane County’s summer food program so that families are able to come, eat lunch with their children at the park, and then stay for some reading time.
Intros first came to the program as a participant, bringing her children to listen to stories and take home a book. She was inspired by the interactions among the kids so much that she decided to volunteer herself. She says the kids will help each other pronounce the words in books that are both Spanish and English. “There’s not really that language barrier that we as adults seem to have,” she says. “If we didn’t go to reading, my kids would really miss it.”
In addition to benefiting Intros and her family, the program has also brought together the Cottage Grove community. Intros has noticed how community members work together when they realize they’re running out of books to always make sure that the book bins are full.
The Intros’ family experience represents exactly what the United Way hoped would happen when it introduced the Summer Reading Spots program in 2010. Summer Reading Spots Coordinator Patrick Strickler says United Way noticed that throughout Lane County, benchmarks for kindergarten and learning readiness were not being met. “Some of the youngest kids didn’t know what a book was or how to turn the pages,” says Strickler. “United Way started the Summer Reading Spots Initiative to get parents reading to kids at home throughout the summer.”
United Way sends each child home with a free book every time they attend the program. The program accepts donations of new or gently used book in English or in Spanish, and especially appreciates donations of this year’s most wanted books, including everything from Who Hoo Are You: An Animals Book to Charlotte’s Web or Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.
At each Summer Reading Spots site volunteers organize kids by age ranges, then read books to them according to their reading level. Volunteers are given tips on how to engage the young audience in interactive reading, such as how to change their reading pace to match the story, pointing to pictures, and encouraging children to say the words along with the reader.
Last year, the program reached more than 400 children, from infants through age 12, and distributed more than 700 free books. Next time you’re taking care of business at OCCU bring along a children’s book to donate. Think of it as a deposit that will pay dividends for a child’s future.