Reading and literacy statistics surrounding elementary-aged students are staggering. According to The Literacy Project (2022), reading more books correlates with higher reading scores. Students who get to choose what they’d like to read and have opportunities to read in informal environments are likely to be more motivated to read, demonstrate greater language and literacy development, and simply read more. Reading, as well being read to, influences readers further than simply hearing stories. These and other critical stats about the importance of supporting reading development in young readers — a foundational skill for learning — motivated the curation of a unique outreach initiative for First Church in Huntsville, Ala.
Reading Buddies was born and piloted as an initiative positioned to engage church members in community outreach with the potential to be both impactful and perpetual. Often community outreach begins and ends with a single event. However, an effort was sought that would provide ongoing, meaningful community engagement through volunteers’ consistent connection to service opportunities. Adult volunteers were chosen to pair with elementary students to help young readers strengthen basic reading skills in authentic ways. A specific call was made for participants who enjoyed working with children and had time to volunteer during the school day; participants were assigned to schools; general orientation was arranged; and the participants were leased to work with young readers.
The Reading Buddies Literacy Initiative was implemented during the second semester of the current school year. It is designed to engage volunteers ages 18 and up by providing opportunities for them to spend time reading and holding conversations one-on-one with elementary students and helping them sharpen basic reading skills on a weekly basis for 30 minutes per student during the school day. Volunteers served at two local Title 1 public elementary schools in the Huntsville City School system — James Dawson Elementary and Ridgecrest Elementary. The Reading Buddies meetups proved to be impactful for both students and volunteers as evidenced by smiles, enthusiastic interactions, much-anticipated classroom visits, special gifts, and more. Volunteers read great stories and practiced skills with students, chatted, laughed, loved on, and cherished time spent in informal ways, pouring into children in the local community who needed it the most. When it comes to practical ministry, a unique opportunity was seen to serve in a capacity that will have longstanding results. We are thankful for the privilege of being the hands and feet of Jesus through sharing time and great books with children, and are looking forward to the new school year when we can continue our Reading Buddy Literacy Initiative.
William Lee, D.Min., First Church senior pastor, reads with a 3rd grader.
Audree Johnson, WJOU Radio Station general manager, reads with a 4th grader.
South Central | October 2023