(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler) [Order this photo]
The boys and girls in Meghan Crowell's second grade class at East Side Elementary did not hold back as they shouted their answer in unison.
The gentleman asking the question, Stanley Green, had taken a moment from the book he was reading to the children -- "The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings" -- to ensure they knew the meaning behind the holiday they were about to celebrate.
(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
"It's good for them to hear from someone other than me all the time," Crowell said. "The children really, really enjoy this and they've been asking all week when Mr. Green was coming back. He always gets into it and makes it fun."
Green is one of 16 volunteers locally who's participating in the Raise Your Hand Bedford County program that's focused on helping young students hone their reading skills.
"I know it sounds simple, but if we can get kids interested at an early age it will help," said Dawn Holley, the local executive director of United Way responsible for coordinating the local program. "It will help with things like graduation rates."
Officially launched a couple weeks ago, Raise Your Hand Bedford County is a statewide collaborative effort to recruit volunteers to tutor, mentor and read to children to help them succeed in school and life
United Way provided the infrastructure for recruiting volunteers and placing them each of the schools throughout the county as well as some in the School Age Care Program.
Some volunteers, like Green, prefer the group setting while other volunteers prefer to work with kids one-on-one. The school principals determine the kids selected for additional assistance.
Early this week, while Green entertained Crowell's class, Holley, who serves as both a volunteer and program coordinator, read one-on-one with a student in the school library. For approximately a half hour, Holley took her time, first reading a book to her student, then allowing the student to read the book back to her.
"It is important for children to hear the words, while reading them aloud," Holley said. "It increases their vocabulary and enriches experiences. Books can be very nurturing and build ambition. Outside of the school setting, children need to be able to read aloud, practice learned words, build their vocabulary, and have the confidence to want to learn more."
Holley was quick to thank her partners and volunteers for making this possible.
"We are not able to do this work ourselves," she said. "It is gratifying to know that we can pull the people and resources together to make our community stronger.
"As an individual volunteer, it is satisfying to know that I am making a positive impact in a child's life. I want to be a good role model for these kids. I want them to come away feeling more confident in themselves and understanding that their education means as much to their community as it does to them."
Holley said all schools have been linked with at least one volunteer.
Southside Principal Reita Vaughn is anxious for Southside's volunteers to get started next week.
"As far as teachers and administration, we are very, very happy that we have volunteers that will come in and work with our children one on one and in small groups. We're starting right after thanksgiving."
Crowell added, "I also think it's important for the community to be involved."
Among the many things she's thankful for today, Holley says the volunteers who've brought this program to life near the top her list.
"I am extremely thankful that we have so many caring volunteers that have stepped up to the plate to volunteer in the program," she said. "Most volunteers are reading (to or with) children for at least one hour per week. These volunteers have very busy lives and they are putting many hours toward the future of our community."
Volunteers are thoroughly trained and background checks are conducted yearly.
Volunteers are needed. Call Holley at (931) 684-6685.
* Enter school ready to succeed
* Read proficiently by 4th grade
* Make a successful transition into and out of middle school
* Be ready for success in college, work and life
* Feel needed and valued
* Network, make contacts
* Gain work experience
* Make a difference in someone's life and the bigger world