April 19, 2009 in City

A turn for the better

Mentors and reading programs can be a life-altering combination
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Children join in a counting song at story time Tuesday at the Coeur d’Alene Library. At libraries, children learn to love reading and have positive adult interactions.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

On the Web: The Vox newspaper’s bloggers are highlighting a “charity a day” to call attention to local nonprofits at spokesman.com/blogs/vox.NextSunday:ReachfortheFuture:Whendreamsunite

The Our Kids: Our Business theme this year is mentoring. Sometimes, the mentors don’t even have to be real.

Children who read well meet fictional characters who can show them how to cope with problems, express emotions and overcome adversity.

“Kids see themselves in characters,” says Coeur d’Alene Public Library Director Bette Ammon. “A foster kid reads a book about a foster kid and says, ‘I’m not the only one.’ ”

Mentoring was chosen as this April’s Our Kids: Our Business theme because, in these dicey economic times when most things seem beyond the control of the individual, mentoring is a one-to-one commitment where success is determined by the mentor and the young person being mentored.

Mentors are always in great demand for school reading programs, especially to help struggling readers. Avid readers get better grades and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

“I truly believe that reading is transformational,” says Lydia-Laquatra Fesler, a literacy expert with Spokane Public Schools. “It’s a place to go, wherever you need to go.”

Reading projects also can unite community volunteers for the common good of at-risk children. At St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Coeur d’Alene, volunteers gather books for the children involved with St. Vincent de Paul’s Transitional Housing Center – a place where formerly homeless families work to break the cycle of poverty.

Volunteer Robert Runkle explains: “Four years ago, we begged, borrowed and bought over 1,000 children’s books and a new bookcase for the center. These books are for the children, and we encourage them to take books with them when their parents leave the center. Making books available to children who’ve spent a huge part of their life on the streets, in tent cities, ‘hot-bedding’ from house to house has to have a positive effort. I’ll gladly put in countless hours of grant writing, work with the staff, and other chores in exchange for a smile and a small voice saying ‘Read to me, Bob.’ ”

Ammon urges mentors to use libraries. Making conversation with “mentees” can be a challenge, so sharing a book “can open doors to difficult conversations,” and library services are free, which helps mentors on a budget.

“The public library has always been a space where everyone is welcome,” Ammon said.

Contact Rebecca Nappi at rebeccan@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5496.

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