The Readers

A group of committed volunteers devote a slice of their week to spread the joy of reading to a circle of eager faces.

The door swings open. In unison, the circle looks. They track the newcomer with brightened eyes. Their breath is caught, the corners of their small mouths rise. The big hand and the little hand reveal that it is that time once more: The Reader has arrived.

Says Sara Tufo, a United Way volunteer reader who has run point on the program: “When an adult takes the time to read and share a story with a child they not only share their love of books, they share themselves and they teach a child to dream.”

And who are these dream-weavers? Maria Czop reads for children in the Portsmouth Head Start at Community Campus and has been with the program since its inception, drawn to it through her connection with United Way as a Day of Caring volunteer. “I love reading out loud to kids and my own kids are grown up now!” she says. “I love helping them learn.”

Like Maria, Beverly Hurst clued into the program through her affinity for United Way, spotting an article in The Portsmouth Herald talking about the program’s launch. “I love reading stories to young children,” she says, and does so at Great Bay Kids’ Company in Portsmouth.

Many volunteers joined through word of mouth. Beth Underwood, another Great Bay Kids’ reader, connected through a fellow reader’s recommendation and Roberta Lew, a reader at Kittery Head Start, heard about it from her employer. “I don’t have any children of my own so I thought this was a good match for me,” Roberta says.

“I read to children, hoping to inspire them,” says Leslie Bowering, a new volunteer, reading at Greenland Elementary School. “Reading is so important, but it’s also challenging in this age of technology.”

There is some good in this age of technology, of course, as several readers came aboard through cyberspace communiqués. Wanda McDonough, a reader at Portsmouth Head Start, and Sharyn Zunz, who deploys to Newmarket Head Start, both responded to United Way emails. Meanwhile, Erika Spegel-Sanborn (Community Childcare Center) and Terri Rubeor (Dover Head Start) latched on thanks to a post on the United Way website.

“Seeing a child engaged in a book is amazing!” Erika says. “I love being part of a program that shares the love of books and reading with young kids.”

Rachel Elias began her reading career at Strafford County Head Start in Somersworth because of an even more intimate connection with United Way of the Greater Seacoast: she’s the administrative assistant at United Way’s Portsmouth office.

“You can actually see the children learning right in front of you,” she says. “It is definitely one of the highlights of my week.”

Regardless of their respective origin points, these committed champions of preschool literacy have been drawn together on behalf of a shared value: there is nothing like delivering the joy of reading to the youngest generation.