isn't necessary to tell Sheila Clauson, manager of the local 7-Eleven store that S.M.A.R.T. (Start Making a Reader Today) is a valuable program for Crook County kids. An enthusiastic supporter of the volunteer reading program, she isn't just an advocate for SMART, she thinks it's a program worth investing in.
   That's why she, along with employees at Prineville's 7-Eleven, encourage shoppers to drop change into the SMART collection box on the counter.
   As is evidenced by the proceeds Clauson handed over to SMART coordinator Kathy Knower earlier this week, many folks, in addition to pocket change, are contributing dollars as well. This last collection brings total contributions for this year in excess of $300.
   "When you have 800 to 1,200 customers a day, the change can really add up," said John Wakeman, 7-Eleven franchisee. "Whether people drop in a dime or a dollar, this is a program that really benefits from the donations."
   Clauson said she became aware of SMART about a year ago when her son started first grade. After a year of being read to by volunteers, his reading ability jumped dramatically. "He's in the second grade this year, and teachers are already telling us he's at the fourth grade reading level," she said. "The SMART program has a lot to do with that."
   Under Oregon Children's Foundation the local SMART effort was launched in 1996 at Ochoco Elementary school and quickly spread to include all of the elementary schools. Today approximately 175 volunteers are recruited to read to 175 kindergarten through third grade children. Financial contributions are essential for the program as per child cost ranges at $219 for one school year.
   "It's a program that I know is not funded through the State or by any other means. They do the best they can with volunteers, but they've got to have money to buy those books and to keep the program going," she said.
   In addition to 7-Eleven area businesses including Les Schwab, American Pine Products, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and the Shelk Foundation donate, not only dollars to help keep the program going, they also offer the support of employees who volunteer one hour a week as readers.
   "If a child can't read, they are going to have a hard time getting through school." Clauson said. "I think it's a really good program. It helps to make sure that the kids can keep up their reading abilities, and the volunteers are the ones who make that happen."
   Wakeman added that 7-Eleven especially enjoys promoting worthwhile programs where the money raised stays in the community. "We are given a list of programs from the corporation which we can support. For many of those we never see the benefit of the dollars that we give out because they are national programs. But with programs like SMART, we know we are helping to make a difference locally, and we really like to see that," he said.
   For more information about SMART or to volunteer as a reader call the Chamber office at 447-6304, Cheri Nagel at 317-3217 or Knower at 317-3216.
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