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More than just a reading mentor; sharing love of reading through friendship

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An 86-year-old woman and a 5-year-old boy walk hand in hand down the halls of Westview School, headed to the library. The scene is a story waiting to be told – and that's just what happens when the two are together. Stories are told and opportunities are opened.

"If these kids can learn to read, their worlds will really open up," says Dorothy Baits, a United Way I READ mentor.

Having no teaching experience, Dorothy was at first hesitant to get involved in the I READ program. But it didn't take long before Dorothy and her student, Andre, became fast friends. She now mentors two students, adding Jayden to her Monday afternoon schedule.

Dorothy comes by volunteering honestly. Her mother was an avid volunteer and even won the Rockford Volunteer of the Year Award when she was 80 years old. And there's no question as to whether or not Dorothy is a fit for this kind of volunteerism. In a school where the absenteeism rate is high, Dorothy's kindergartners haven't missed a single Monday session.

"I think they like being with me," says Dorothy. "I'm not just a reading mentor to these boys – we're friends now."

Over the last several months, Dorothy has seen Andre and Jayden make significant progress. They've both learned countless sight words and have even begun to sound out words. And Dorothy isn't just helping them learn how to read. She's helping them learn how to love reading, just as she does.

"It's been a joy to see them develop," says Dorothy. "I'm delighted to be doing this and I know I'm getting more out of it than I could ever put in."


Dorothy is just one of the many volunteer reading mentors benefiting nearly 400 area children through United Way's early-grade reading initiative. Through I READ, volunteers are matched with Kindergarten students in Harlem, Oregon and Rockford public schools to help educators increase reading proficiency. Volunteers mentor up to two students each week during the school day and are encouraged to remain with their students through third grade. Learn more at wevolunteer.org


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