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Volunteer reading mentor makes relationship building a priority with her student

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When Jo Ellen Born signed up as a reading mentor for the I READ program she was no stranger to helping girls work through social issues, and was certainly not new to the world of teaching.

She was, however, new to the area and Jo Ellen wanted to put her years of teaching middle school and high school science to good use. Although perhaps initially intending to find something more in her niche, Jo Ellen decided to volunteer through the United Way's I READ program.

"I've spent years helping adolescent girls work through identity and developmental hurdles," says Jo Ellen. "But I'd never worked with girls so young. I started to see how developing a relationship, and building trust and friendships can hopefully head off some of the issues girls face down the road."

And Jo Ellen made relationship building a priority with her student, even volunteering to add an extra session every week.

"I noticed that on Monday mornings my student was often worn out from the weekend and not yet back in her routine for the week," says Jo Ellen. "By Wednesday she's much more alert."

Key to building this relationship, Jo Ellen says, is to give children choices, ultimately helping them to feel in control. When Jo Ellen arrives in morning, she asks her student to choose which book they will read, or which game they will play.

As the school year ends, Jo Ellen reflects on how much she will miss her student.

"I didn't realize how attached I would become," says Jo Ellen. "It was such a positive experience for both of us."

Jo Ellen 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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For thousands of area youth, middle school is the defining moment in their lives. See how United Way and its partners are creating a movement to help middle school students achieve success. Visit www.movethemiddlenow.org.

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