Read to Succeed touching young lives but needing volunteers

December 11, 2015  

Stanley Shaw reading

Stanley Shaw, professor emeritus of pharmacy practice, enjoys a moment during his volunteer time in the Read to Succeed program. (United Way photo provided)

Children take a big step forward when they gain reading skills and enthusiasm, and more Purdue volunteers in area schools through United Way's Read to Succeed program can help.

To underscore the value of the program and Purdue's commitment to the community, the University grants employees compensated time to be at schools -- an hour per week throughout the school year -- plus 30 minutes to travel to and from them. President Mitch Daniels has issued a letter of support for this participation. Volunteers work out an appropriate schedule with their supervisors and the school.

In his letter, Daniels cites experts' viewpoint that intervention in the early grades to foster adequate reading skill is critical and says, "As the area's largest employer and a proud community partner, Purdue has once again pledged to support Read to Succeed."

In the United Way of Greater Lafayette's "Cradle to Career Continuum," attaining the ability to read at the third-grade level at the appropriate age is a major step. Volunteers find Read to Succeed to be not only productive but also highly rewarding as younger elementary school children see a world of interesting things open up through reading.

Read to Succeed has grown from a handful of area schools in just a few years to include all public elementary schools in the Tippecanoe, Lafayette and West Lafayette Community school corporations. Its effectiveness has led to more requests for volunteers, says Gary Henriott, chair of United Way's Community Commitment to Education section.

At least 13 teachers who have made requests don't yet have a volunteer, he says, and dozens more teachers would like an additional volunteer. One result: Finding a good match for a school and teacher, grade level, day and time probably will be as easy as the rest of the sign-up.

"After five years, more and more teachers know that having a RTS volunteer (or more) working with their students is paying off in a variety of ways -- better attendance, fewer discipline problems and more student attention from their teacher and/or their classroom volunteer," Henriott says.

For many volunteers, he says, their hour of reading at school is the highlight of the week.

Rob Hart, producer and director in video and multimedia production, an unit of IT Customer Relations, has volunteered for more than a year starting in spring 2013, working with second-graders. He sees benefits at several levels.

"Participating over the school year, I have seen them improve, and that feels good, he says. "My experience seems to confirm research that says regular practice, even just 15 minutes a week, can really sharpen their reading and comprehension. It also shows that reading can be entertaining, not always just a chore.

"One student was reading a book about animals, and you could see the spark in his eyes, like wow, this is really neat. So he was gaining interest in a subject and in reading."

Once Hart brought one of his own Dr. Seuss books when the teacher invited him to read to the whole class, and that turned into a fun day for everyone. Moreover, it allowed the teacher to point out that Hart had been an early reader, and the children saw how another adult beyond teachers and family considers reading to be important and enjoyable.

Hart is taking a break while that teacher, with whom he has developed a good working relationship, is on maternity leave. He is eager to be back as a Read to Succeed volunteer in the new calendar year.

To learn more and to volunteer, visit and see program details and available positions. For questions or to volunteer without going online, contact Emily Bollock at or 765-742-9077, ext. 228, at the United Way of Greater Lafayette. 

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