I am so pleased to share this guest post by Rich Greif today. Rich is the National Executive Director of Everybody Wins!, a mentor/reading program founded in 1991. Everybody Wins! Power Lunch program matches adults with low income children who need a mentor. Read this fantastic post to learn how Rich started as an Everybody Wins! Power Lunch mentor, how the Power Lunch program is proven to help children improve or maintain their reading proficiency, and how we, as individuals, can attempt to help fix the national literacy crisis. Another one of my like minded Twitter friends, I’m honored Rich agreed to guest post today!
We often take our ability to read, write and communicate for granted, the skills that are the very key to success in school, work and in life. Most of us were fortunate to have parents or family members read to us as children, buy us books, and encourage us to read. Unfortunately, there are millions of children in America, especially low-income children, that are at serious risk of not developing these skills, because they do not have access to books, are not being read to at home, may primarily speak another language other than English or they may not have parents that are literate themselves. Children who do not learn to read proficiently by 4th grade are far more likely to drop out of school, commit a crime and be unemployed. Nationally, only 50% of low-income 4th graders can read at or above the basic level, and in many areas, the figures are much worse.
The national literacy crisis can seem daunting and overwhelming. So what can any of us do? I learned firsthand that by focusing on one child, one book at a time, I could make a real difference in a child’s life, and in my own life too. In 1998, I started volunteering for the Everybody Wins! Power Lunch program, where I was matched with a boy named Jamal. Each week during the school year, on the same day and time each week, I would travel with my co-workers to Jamal’s elementary school and read books aloud and share conversation with him. Jamal was a pleasant and well-mannered 2nd grader who seemed to enjoy our time together. Through Everybody Wins!, I received training on both active read-aloud techniques and tips on being a good mentor. Having no children of my own at the time, spending time with Jamal taught me the importance of reading aloud consistently to a child. It also gave me a window into what was happening in our nation’s elementary schools. Jamal and I read together for three years through 4th grade and it was often the highlight of my week.
After our match closed, Jamal and I stayed in touch over the years. This year, Jamal graduated from high school on time and I was thrilled to be at his graduation party where he learned he had received a scholarship to college. He thanked me for being there for him and encouraging him to read, which is still one of his favorite activities. Not surprisingly, reading books is a favorite household activity now that I have two sons of my own.
Everybody Wins! was originally founded in 1991 by Arthur and Phyllis Tannenbaum, with five volunteers reading on their lunch hours in one Manhattan school. Today, there are 14 Everybody Wins! programs around the country serving nearly 12,000 children in more than 180 schools. There are over 600 companies that provide volunteers and local funding support. Companies benefit from the program by providing a well-managed, convenient and rewarding volunteer opportunity for employees that bolsters morale and teamwork skills without any administrative burden.
The late Senator Ted Kennedy was a Power Lunch mentor for 12 years with Everybody Wins! DC. His wife, Vicki Kennedy, is continuing his legacy as a Power Lunch mentor herself. Senator Tom Harkin, also a longtime Power Lunch reading mentor, has said, “With this program, everybody truly does win, especially the children. It is amazing to see the difference that one hour can make in a child’s life.” Senator Harkin and Vicki Kennedy’s involvement in Everybody Wins! was recently featured on the NBC Nightly News.
The Power Lunch program has been proven to help students improve or maintain their reading proficiency, reading-related skills and habits, reading motivation, attitudes toward reading and reading for enjoyment. Teacher assessments show that Power Lunch students experience substantial improvement in reading comprehension, vocabulary, reading ability, listening comprehension, attention span and ability to articulate thoughts. All of these are the early building blocks that are so critical to a child’s literacy skills.
We can’t solve the literacy crisis overnight, but by focusing on one mentor, one child, one book at a time, we can make a real difference in each child we serve. You can help by volunteering, joining a local board, donating, becoming a partner or helping us spread the word. With your help, we can show children not only that reading is important – but that they are important too.