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Inner Southeast schools still seek SMART reading helpers

Photo Credit: DAVID F. ASHTON - Student Bella Williams says she loves to read with her SMART volunteer, Sally Rhys.Watching a session at which SMART (“Start Making A Reader Today”) volunteers read one-on-one with students at a weekly gathering, it’s difficult to tell whether the child or the adult is the one enjoying the experience more.

The SMART Program Manager for East Multnomah County, Michelle Gilmore, was also at the East Portland reading session at Whitman Elementary in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood when we visited.

“It’s a simple idea,” Gilmore said. “Since 1992, SMART has been pairing caring adult volunteers with children who need reading support. And, by participating, the kids get books to take home and keep.”

During the school year, adults come in and help the youngsters develop a love of reading while they help build their reading skills, simply by sitting and reading with them, Gilmore told THE BEE.

At the session on January 20, SMART volunteer Sally Rhys took time from her job as an executive coach to read with student Bella Williams.

“I started doing this about three years ago now, because I remember my dad putting me on his lap to read cartoons and comics,” Rhys recalled. “I realize that without a parent so involved in helping you learn – or if you have a language barrier – it would be difficult to read.

“Then, I became aware of how important it is for a student to be reading by the second grade!” Rhys exclaimed. “It’s critically important for students to read at this level, if they are to have success in school, and later in life.”

Volunteer Jim Ruppa told us he is in his fourth year of being a SMART mentor. “When I retired as a Spanish language teacher at La Salle High School, I decided to join the program. Here in Southeast Portland, my background helps in this volunteer job as well; many of the kids at the school are bilingual. If they don't understand something in English, I can explain it to them in Spanish.”

The time he spends with students is “the highlight of my week,” Ruppa said. “I look forward to coming here on Tuesdays; I love the time I am with my students. When our time is over, it feels like I’m doing something that’s really important.”

SMART Program Manager for East Multnomah County Michelle Gilmore reiterated: “It is not too late for volunteers to sign up with their program; in this area, we have high levels of need. There are schools all over the area that could use volunteers to have an hour a week, to share and to give back to the community.

“We have some schools where we have only two volunteers reading, and we need about twenty more,” Gilmore added.

Even though the program ends for the school year in the middle of May, now is actually a good time to join the program, she said. “Right now, we have a lot of kids waiting to be read with. This is a good opportunity to ‘give it a try-out’ for volunteers. We’re hoping that people fall in love with being a volunteer, and we will see them again next fall!”

To learn more, call Gilmore at 971/634-1603, or go to the website: www.getsmartoregon.org.