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Hit the books

Oak Crest volunteers team up with area youngsters for Buddy Reading Program

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October 14th, 2014
two women in a library holding books
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“The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss

November 10 marks the beginning of National Young Readers week, an annual event cofounded in 1989 by Pizza Hut and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. During this weeklong event, schools across America will highlight the importance of reading—a practice residents of Oak Crest encourage year-round through their Buddy Reading Program.  

Twice a month from October through May, students from City Neighbors Charter School, the public school located in northeastern Baltimore City, eagerly visit residents of Oak Crest for a morning of reading and friendship. Together, the buddies retreat to quiet spots around the community to share an hour together with a good book.  

“The kids can’t wait to come here,” says Alberta Vande Ryt, who began volunteering with the Buddy Reading Program shortly after she moved to Oak Crest four years ago.

Students bring the books they would like to read with them to Oak Crest when they visit. 

“I had one little girl last year who was so bright,” says Alberta. “She said she wants to be a librarian when she grows up. She would bring her books and line them up as if they were in the library and would then let me make my selection.” 

Reading is fundamental

Experts say the importance of learning to read at an early age is critical for stimulating early brain development and building key language, literacy, and social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics has announced that doctors will now advise parents to begin reading aloud to their babies from birth. 

“It should be there each time we touch base with children,” said Dr. Pamela High, professor of pediatrics at Brown University and former president of the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, in a New York Times article. High wrote the new policy that recommends doctors tell parents they should be “reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy.

In an interview with PBS’s Newshour, Dr. Cindy Osman, a pediatrician at Bellevue Pediatric Clinic, said, “There’s solid research that shows that just that intervention of handing a family a book, giving them a couple of age-appropriate pieces of advice about how to read with their kid, and just encouraging reading, the—those kids—will do better in school.”

Retired elementary schoolteacher and Buddy Reading volunteer Ruth McCalla emphasizes that reading is fundamental to every aspect of life. 

“If you go on to higher education, you need to be able to read. You have to be able to read directions and signs if you are driving, menus, recipes—it’s a skill that’s necessary in every walk of life,” says Ruth, a grandmother of six. 

For both the volunteers and the kids, the Buddy Reading Program is about more than just reading; it’s a unique opportunity to create intergenerational relationships.

“Last year was the first year I had a girl ‘buddy,’” says Alberta. “Up until then, I had all boys. But I have five kids of my own, boys and girls, so I can relate to both. Over time, you develop a relationship with the kids, and it’s hard not to get attached to them.”

Today a reader, tomorrow a leader

The Buddy Reading program is administered at Oak Crest by Ann Marie Riehl, volunteer program coordinator. She says the value of the intergenerational connections being made is immeasurable.

“The residents look forward to this one morning each week and often stop by my office afterward to tell me about their student, the books they read, and what is new at school,” says Riehl. “Many of our volunteers are retired teachers and bus drivers that have been working around kids for many years. There are many stories of residents that have read with young siblings and built relationships with their families. One day these young people will grow up, become professionals, and hopefully look back on this experience as a positive one,” she says. 

As for Alberta, working with the kids is the highlight of her week.

“The kids are all so smart. I’m really impressed with them. Just knowing that I can make a positive impact in these kids’ lives is the most rewarding part,” she says. 

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