I READ Triumph Leads to First-Gen Graduation

As a dedicated volunteer, Stella Schroeder found her purpose as a reading mentor in United Way’s I READ program. Her journey began in the fall of 2011 when she and her husband volunteered for I READ at Beyer Elementary School. She was paired with Jenny Orenday, a bright five-year-old kindergartener who needed assistance with reading proficiency.

Jenny faced a unique challenge coming from an English as a Second Language (ESL) household. Stella’s primary responsibility was clear: provide English reading practice. She approached this task with kindness and patience, leaving a lasting impression on Jenny.

Over the next three years, Stella worked closely with Jenny; the results were remarkable. Jenny’s reading proficiency, learning engagement, and confidence soared. Stella’s mentorship played a pivotal role in Jenny’s academic journey. By the time Jenny reached high school, English had become her strongest subject—a transformation that Jenny directly attributes to Stella’s early mentorship.

Stella is Jenny’s cheerleader. “Jenny’s success is a result of her hard work,” Stella said. “She is a bright young girl, and witnessing her reach her full potential brings me great joy.”  

As Jenny prepares to graduate from Auburn High School this May, she stands tall as the first in her immediate family to graduate. Her next chapter awaits at Northern Illinois University, fueled by the anticipation of a scholarship from Rockford Promise.

Jenny and Stella’s story exemplifies the transformative power of literacy and the profound impact one person can have on another’s life. Their dedication inspires us all to make a difference in our communities.

The I-READ program was recently relaunched in 20 kindergarten classrooms at Donald Parker Early Education Center. Volunteers collaborate with classrooms, working individually or in small groups on literacy and pre-literacy activities. The program focuses on pre-k and kindergarten, with plans to expand to other schools in the coming year.