At Palmer Group, we encourage our staff to invest in causes they are passionate about; we desire to make lives better in and out of the office. And when we hear of the ways our people are giving back, we are excited to share their stories.
One way individuals in our office contribute is by investing their time in a volunteer program called Book Buddy. This is put on by United Way of Central Iowa; their organization improves lives across Iowa by supporting nonprofits. They explain how hundreds of four-year-olds are at risk of not gaining the skills needed for kindergarten; their research indicates that children who start behind tend to stay behind. They started this program to enhance children’s educational foundation.
A few of our employees, Nikki Renaud, Sophia O’Brien, and Rhonda Baker, took the time to share with me why they decided to get involved in the Book Buddy program and what they have learned through their service.
How did you become interested/starting in volunteering for Book Buddies?
N: The idea of Book Buddy first came up when we had a United Way representative come and speak to our office. I love kids and had a desire to get more involved in the community, so I decided to give it a try. The time commitment wasn’t an issue because Palmer Group generously gives us time off to volunteer for opportunities like this.
How often do you get to do this? Is it all at the same school or different schools?
S: As volunteers, we rotate going every Tuesday at Oakridge Neighborhood in downtown Des Moines. Typically, we each go once per month. We stay with the same school so we can familiarize ourselves with our selected buddies and so the students are comfortable with us too.
What kind of books do you get to read to the kids?
N: We read all kinds of picture books to the kids! The Book Buddy program collaborates with the Des Moines Public Schools to find the 25 books we read throughout the year. As a reader, you can see the progression of book difficulty increase throughout the year. Thanks to the program, the children get to bring home their own copy of the book at the end of the week with the goal of encouraging the parents to read to their children.
Do you have a favorite book you have read to the kids? Why is it your favorite?
S: My favorite is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen or Z is for Zebra by Kelly Bingham. The kids REALLY get into it and it’s awesome to see their enthusiasm.
How have you seen this impact the kids? The teachers?
N: The mission behind Book Buddy is to help the children build the reading skills needed to start kindergarten. The program talks a ton about the research behind their mission, which you get to witness as a reader. As the weeks progress, the children become more advanced in their knowledge of letters and words and gain an overall understanding of what’s happening in the stories. I think the teachers enjoy us coming alongside them to help invest in the children, and we all get to watch them learn and grow as readers!
Do they enjoy and get excited about this? How can you tell?
S: The kids usually gather on their “shapes” on the classroom rug and greet us. We also ask our buddies where to sit while we read to them. It’s a fun way for them to take us around the classroom and show us a favorite spot of theirs.
R: The children are all so excited when we walk into their classroom. Their eyes light up and they are waving at us. When their name is called, they jump right up and run to their reading buddy.
Do you have any memorable stories from your time so far?
R: One little girl asked me about my family and, since I don’t have any kids at home, she wanted to come live with me.
S: My first-year reading, maybe even my first time as a Book Buddy, my buddy asked me for a hug before I left. After that, I proceeded to hug almost every kid in the room, as the next one in line would say, “my turn!” It was the best feeling.
N: For me personally, it was a big day when one little boy I read to remembered and called me by name. I feel like it showed that we were really building a relationship. I always love when there was extra time to just talk with the children and ask them questions about themselves.
How has this volunteering impacted you? What have you learned from it? Would you encourage others to do this? If so, why?
R: I look forward to reading every month. I get to impact children’s lives and make a difference not only in their lives but in mine too. To take an hour out of my day and spend quality time with 4-year-olds and see life through their eyes is a gift. I love to see how excited they get about reading and enjoying the simple things in life. My favorite part is when I leave, they tell me thank you and give me a hug.
N: I would definitely encourage others to participate in Book Buddy! Reading is such an easy thing to do and requires as much or as little commitment as you’re able to give. You really get to see progress in these children during such a critical time in their learning. Plus, what’s better than receiving hugs from cute children every week?
S: I don’t have many children in my life currently. Sitting down and reading to kids who maybe don’t enjoy reading or have books of their own is so rewarding. It brings me so much joy to see my buddies light-up while learning to read. They’re identifying letters and sounds they learned from school and applying this to these books. I’ve learned so much from Book Buddy: patience, compassion, and empathy.
I would highly encourage others to volunteer for Book Buddy if they are able. Setting aside an hour to sit, listen, and read with pre-school students may seem small, but it truly does impact their lives in a positive way.
The Book Buddy program makes an extremely positive impact on the lives of these children. In fact, these “students have more than doubled their mastery of pre-reading skills during the 2018-2019 school year, improving their test scores significantly more than preschoolers not in the program.” That’s a an outstanding accomplishment!
If you are interested in volunteering, please connect with United Way about their volunteer opportunities. If you have further questions about our community involvement, please reach out to us at Palmer Group.
By: Hannah De Cleene