Volunteer reads to pay it forward

Mike Brown shows photos of the book he is reading to children at Parkside Day Care in Bangior. Brown serves as a volunteer reader at the day care.
Mike Brown shows photos of the book he is reading to children at Parkside Day Care in Bangior. Brown serves as a volunteer reader at the day care.
Posted Jan. 03, 2012, at 12:22 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 03, 2012, at 2:03 p.m.

Editor’s Note: The following is one in a series of articles being featured in the Bangor Daily News that will highlight a local Pay it Forward movement with stories of ordinary people benefiting from acts of kindness and how they choose to pay that kindness forward. These will be featured on the Positively Maine page.

BANGOR, Maine — When Mike Brown of Corinth walks through the hallway at Parkside Day Care in Bangor, the faces of staff and children light up in smiles, including the little boy carrying a plush green dinosaur toy and the two small sisters wearing glittering silver headbands. Parents wave goodbye as the children hurry toward classrooms along the hallway, its walls painted in a lively marine motif with swimming fish and curling waves.

For the past year, Brown has served as a volunteer reader every other Friday at the day care center, carrying on the spirit and the philosophy of Pay it Forward, which advocates changing one life at a time. The people behind the Pay it Forward movement in Bangor are Rick Bernstein and his wife, Heather. The idea is that instead of “paying back” those who give you assistance, you “Pay it Forward” by doing something good for others.

Brown, as he has done for the past five years, works at improving his reading skills with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor reading tutor Wayne Walker.

“I’ve come a long ways,” Brown said of his experience with the organization. “I struggled with reading all my life. I stumbled over every word when I started out.”

That has changed considerably.

“Now Mike is comfortable enough to read to the children, even from books we hand to him that he’s never seen,” said Lisa Janicki, a prekindergarten teacher at the school, which serves 130 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old in eight classrooms.

“That gives me a surprise, too, sometimes,” Brown joked.

When he first began as a volunteer reader at the day care, Brown said, the children were very curious about the oxygen tank he uses to aid his breathing.

“I explained to them that I can’t breathe very well without it,” he said. But these days, the children are more interested in what Brown reads to them, including stories about winter, Halloween, Santa Claus and dinosaurs. In some cases, the stories are ones the children ask for again and again — and have memorized.

“If I make a mistake, they correct me,” Brown laughed.

Brown, a Bangor Public Works retiree who has emphysema, also has developed an interest in writing, and with the help of his Literacy Volunteers tutor has written “Robbers Gone Bad,” a story about cowboys. He also is in the process of writing a murder mystery, which as yet has no title. Currently the story is 25 to 30 chapters long. He and his tutor develop the story by bouncing ideas around and making up characters as they go along. Brown writes his stories in longhand. The writing, he said, is a great way to practice his spelling and grammar skills.

“Wayne has helped me better myself,” he said.

“There’s a big connection between reading and writing,” said Jen Montgomery-Rice, owner of the day care and member of the Literacy Volunteers of Bangor board of directors. “It’s the glue that holds reading together. It cements reading skills. Mike is teaching the children that reading is something you carry with you throughout your life.”

Brown also participates in a reading group sponsored by New Books, New Readers, a program of the Maine Humanities Council.

“We read books and talk about them,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”

“I am so proud that Mike can take his reading skills and share them with others,” said Mary Lyon, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

“My mother is very proud that I’m helping the children,” Brown said.

“Reading is the gift Mike gives us,” said Montgomery-Rice.

Brown intends to continue sharing his skills with the children as a way of paying it forward in honor of what he has received from his reading tutor and Literacy Volunteers of Bangor.

In the classroom at the end of the hallway, Brown seats himself in a child-size green chair, his oxygen tank parked beside him. The children react to his presence with excitement. He picks up the two books he will read that morning and the children, seated on the rug, turn their attention toward him, their small, sweet faces reflecting anticipation and interest. He opens the book and shows them the picture. It’s a story about Santa Claus. Then, he begins, in a full, confident voice, to read.

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