Weather Forecast


Reading buddy program has grown but more volunteers would be welcome

Jenissa Acosta, 8, of Willmar, left, and Theresa Wittenberg read Wednesday at the Lincoln Elementary School in Willmar. Wittenberg, executive director of the local YMCA, is one of the volunteers paired with students through Rotary Readers. (Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer)1 / 3
Angela Suarez, 8 of Willmar, and Mary Jo deCathelineau read a book together Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer)2 / 3
Deb Kleven is a child guide at Lincoln Elementary in Willmar.3 / 3

WILLMAR -- Jenissa Acosta and Theresa Wittenberg finished reading a book about frogs and moved on to Dr. Seuss.

Nearby, Keysha Stahl and Annette Benson leaned over a well-worn "I Spy" book, searching through busy photos for things like baseball mitts and turtles.

In all corners of the Lincoln Elementary School library, small groups of adults and children huddled together over books, reading aloud, and the room hummed with activity.

It was Wednesday, and a dozen third-graders were spending their noon recess time reading with their grownup buddies in the Rotary Readers program.

The program sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Rotary has grown from a handful of volunteer mentors at Jefferson Elementary a few years ago. The program now has about 50 volunteers at four different schools.

Keysha, 9, and Benson have been reading books from the "Amelia Bedelia" series, and she chose the "I Spy" book on Wednesday. Several other groups were reading books from the "I Spy" series that day. Benson and a co-worker from the Conway, Deuth and Schmiesing accounting firm trade weeks to read with Keysha.

Jenissa, 8, said, "it's fun," to read with Wittenberg, the YMCA director. "Sometimes when we finish early, we play a game," she said.

She likes to read, Jenissa said, but her favorite subjects are actually math and art.

Wittenberg, and other reading buddies, praised the reading skills of their young friends.

"I like the pictures, but Jenissa does the reading," Wittenberg said.

Tim Simonson listened while Brady Tjaden, 8, read a book about rocks. They had just finished a book about rocks.

Simonson said they had just started reading together a week ago, after he was recruited by a co-worker at the Anderson, Larson, Hanson and Saunders law firm. "Hopefully we can keep reading together," he said, and Brady nodded.

"It's been a very worthwhile experience," Simonson said. "I think I get more out of it than Brady does."

Deb Kleven, the child guide at Lincoln, said it was fun to watch the relationships develop between the adults and children.

The Rotarians "really enjoy this," she said. "So often, when you come with a gift, you get so much in return, and I think that's what they've found. It's a win-win for everybody."

The children benefit by getting to know adults from so many different backgrounds, Kleven said.

The children are chosen for the program for a variety of reasons, Kleven said, and all are participating with their parents' permission. Some need to work on their reading skills and others are just interested in the program. Some are recommended for it because the school staff feels they will benefit from having another positive adult influence in their lives.

The schools have numerous opportunities available for adults who want to read with students, Kleven said.

"If people want to be part of this, please call," she said. "We all have kids on waiting lists."