Reading program seeks to pair adults with kids

Posted Oct. 10, 2010, at 6:30 p.m.

Individuals 55 and older who love to read to children and don’t have any opportunities, or as many as they would like, should consider becoming a Retired and Senior Volunteer Program reading volunteer for local child care centers in Greater Bangor.

Perhaps your grandchildren do not live in the area, or they’ve grown up and are now reading on their own.

In any event, if you love reading to little ones, this volunteer opportunity is made just for you.

The UMaine Center on Aging RSVP program is looking for folks who would be willing to commit to at least a half-hour a week for a six-month period to read aloud and help spark the imaginations of children ages newborn to 5 at sites such as Good Samaritan Agency in Bangor, The Sharing Place in Orono, the Bangor Y and Penquis Child Development Center in Bangor.

To be part of this program, reports Paula Burnett, the Center on Aging’s RSVP program director, you need to become an RSVP member and undergo a State Bureau of Identification background check.

There is no fee to join RSVP, and RSVP volunteers “across the board, if they need and request it, do receive mileage reimbursement,” Paula told me.

“Obviously, we are looking for some very literate individuals who would like to help out children” by not only reading aloud to them, she said, but who are willing and able to offer and participate in other “literacy-enhancing activities as part of the reading aloud process.”

Paula said part of that process is helping little ones to become more engaged with characters in the books being read to them.

Bringing passion and talent “to liven up the books that we provide” also is an important quality potential volunteer readers should possess.

This local Born to Read program began in 2001 when RSVP was part of what is now United Way of Eastern Maine, Paula explained, and it continued under the new sponsoring, in 2003, of the UMaine Center on Aging.

“The program has its origins with the Maine Humanities Council, and this has been a wonderful collaboration over the years,” she said.

“We’re primarily placing volunteers” with what were formerly known as Head Start programs and now go by the name of Child Development Centers, Paula said.

“Very often, these are children whose parents may be of a limited educational background, and they might not have many books in the home,” she said.

She said such programs become “a very special time” for youngsters when they have “somebody who is there to read to you and listen to you and get you engaged and help expand your mind.”

This particular “call out for volunteers” came as a result of a grant the program received last spring from the Bangor Noontime Rotary Club, Paula said.

Similar programs are conducted in Piscataquis, Hancock and Washington counties.

The time commitment does include training and, naturally, there is some preparation time for each half-hour session.

Paula said this is true, especially, for those who would be reading to children “who are a little older.

“Some older children can go through several books in a half-hour,” she said.

Because it’s not always easy to get volunteers, Paula said the training for this particular program is usually individual.

“We typically try to do one-on-one training when we can,” she said. “However, if the timing is right we might do small-group training.”

For individuals considering this volunteer commitment, Paula notes that “the other half of it is the intergenerational experience that has been great, especially for folks who can’t be grandparents for geographical reasons” or who have older grandchildren.

The program provides intergenerational bonding and social stimulation, and offers child care providers with “another sort of spectrum to their activities.

“It’s a win-win situation all along the way,” Paula said.

If you are interested in becoming an RSVP volunteer reader and helping little minds grow with excitement, wonder and joy, call Paula at 262-7926 or program coordinator Chevelle Marshall at 262-7924.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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