As part of SMART Reading’s 20th anniversary efforts in 2011-2012, we launched a story collection campaign to invite individuals — volunteers, educators, parents, former SMART Reading students — to share about their experiences with SMART Reading. We received a great response and gathered more than 100 fabulous stories about the many ways in which SMART Reading is improving lives, big and small. Enjoy!

Story from:


One day while I was reading at Lynch Elementary I walked by a fifth grader reading with a younger child. They were sitting next to each other with the book in between them and I heard the fifth grader ask his SMART student, “What do you think happened next?” I loved seeing the two of them sharing the excitement of the story and enjoying their time together. Reading for SMART is as much a gift to a child as it is to the reader.

Story from:

Maurine Orton

I have read to kids in the SMART program for five years now and several times I’ve stopped my work and drove to SMART thinking, “Do I really have time to do this when there is so much work back at the office?” After reading to those little sweethearts, I found myself saying, “Are you kidding, how could you not take the time to read to these children?” I always left feeling better than when I arrived. They seemed to have a way of melting your heart each time.

One of my favorites is the little girl who had a disability with speaking and learning. She could not speak a word that I could understand; yet we would sit and laugh and point at picutres and before the year was over she had key words to say on the pages of the book. The fear that I faced thinking, “How am I going to make a difference for her soon?” disappeared as we began making little milestones with a few words here and there. By the end of the year, she was much improved and I felt a sense of gratefulness that I got to be one of the few who experienced the joy of her accomplishments. Our kids truly need us and I hope to continue my journey with SMART for years to come.

Story from:

Shelby Nultemeier

Well my story starts off when SMART first came out actually! My brothers were both in the program, then when I got to the age, my mother wanted to give me the chance to love reading like she does. Growing up, I hated reading until I found the SMART program. From 1999 to 2001 I was in the program as as a student. After the program, it changed my life! I went from reading books for punishment to crawling with a bunch of books in a corner and never stop reading because I loved being lost in those worlds.

Many years later, I found the program again, but this time I was determined to be a volunteer. When I was still in high school, I knew I couldn’t [volunteer] because I didn’t have enough time, but then when I got out of high school and I turned 18, I decided to try again. A few months later, now 19 years old, I got the job but instead of being a Reader, I became a Site Coordinator. I’ve only been working as one for a few months but I have to say this is another new experience for me, a good one and I have SMART to thank for that! I get to do the thing I love with children that I adore at the school I grew up in.

I have gotten to meet new people and connect to families, to children. For the past year I had been stuck in a rut and I haven’t read as much as I like to. But when I got back into the SMART program, I remembered why I loved reading again. There are so many reasons why to thank and love the SMART program. My story is just one of them, if I don’t inspire you then I am sure someone else with a different story can. I am just lucky my life has changed for the better for a second time thanks to this program!

Story from:

Patti Samaniego

One afternoon I was sitting with one of my first graders reading a story to him as he requested. I was reading the story, sensing that he was really into it as he was concentrating, calm and not wiggling around in his chair. A few pages into the story, he politely stood up and said, in his sweet manner “You read the story to yourself, while I go and get another book”!

Story from:

Amy Daniel, Lane County

In the 1990’s, my beloved grandmother Elizabeth Taylor (not the one of Hollywood fame) was a SMART volunteer in Eugene. That was one of the biggest highlights of her last remaining years. She was a retired school teacher so I think that in a small way, it brought her back to what she loved most about teaching which was connecting with and inspiring kids.

She looked forward every week to reading with “her kids.” She was so proud of them – proud of the progress they made. She even displayed photos of a couple of “her kids” in her living room. She loved sharing stories about them with me. She would save little trinkets such as stickers and pencils and bookmarks as little rewards to give them each week.

I know that SMART is all about the kids but truthfully, I could see firsthand how SMART is also all about those who generously volunteer their time. I’m quite certain that my grandmother got as much out of her time with the kids as they did.

Somewhere out there I like to think that there are a few kids, now probably in their 20’s, who are good readers with a love of books because my grandmother took the time to simply sit down and read with them. I hope they remember my beautiful, gray-haired grandmother and the moments they shared together. I know she did.

Story from:

Susan Potts

I have two stories:

The first story is from my first week back with SMART. Meeting my kindergarden boy, we picked a book to read and while I was reading, he would make the sound to the beginning letter of the word I was saying. I was thinking “wow, this kid is really into this, loving the alphabet…” Then when I closed the book in his “outside voice” he said, “that was boring” and every adult in the room was laughing, it was awesome!

My other story is two years ago; I had a little girl I was reading to. Then one day I came in and she wasn’t in SMART anymore because she needed more than SMART could offer. I was bummed we were never told and able to say goodbye. Fast forward to last year – I was at SMART at the beginning of the year and guess who comes in the room? She runs across the room and gives me a huge hug – it was wonderful. She wasn’t who I was reading to but it still touched my heart!

Story from:

Duncan C. Smith, Washington County

My SMART experience started in the late fall of 1994 at Applegate Elementary School in Portland on a tour sponsored by the Education Committee of the Portland City Club. The principal, Michelann Ortloff, gave such an impressive talk about the transformation of this school that I asked how I could get involved as a volunteer. Michelann introduced me to the SMART coordinator and my first student, a young kindergartner named Ashley.

I am now entering my 18th year, and every year the students (often repeats from the prior year), create a very special experience. I’ve fount its more about the relationship than the actual reading. Most years I have committed to 1 ½ or 2 hours in order to read with more students from different grade levels. So far, I have volunteered at four different schools: three in Portland and one in Beaverton, where we live: Applegate (closed in 2004), James John (2004-2008), Sitton (2008-09), and McKinley in Beaverton (2009 to the present). I talked my wife Jean into joining me at James John in 2007, and we have volunteered together ever since. It has been a wonderful experience.

Story from:

Melinda LeRoy, Washington County

I am a new SMART volunteer. The second time I met my student, she asked me if I was going to see her every Thursday morning. When I said Yes, she beamed from ear to ear. Instead of reading hesitantly, she read fluently and confidently. I was so proud of her. I just love being a SMART volunteer and think just my consistent presence will make a difference in her reading. I know she has made a difference in my life. To see a child so excited about reading is a gift. I am so glad to be part of this program.

Story from:

Nova Moisa, Washington County

This is my 12th year as a SMART volunteer. I’m embarrassed to admit that I originally started volunteering for completely selfish reasons – to get out of work as my employer paid for us to volunteer during the work day. I quickly realized that I was gaining so much by helping my two kids and became addicted to volunteering with SMART.

Over the years, I’ve had a wide variety of children as I’ve volunteered at four different schools. I’ve had the extremely shy, hyper active, short-attention span, advanced readers and ESL students. I’ve had my favorite and not-so favorite kids. However, every year I’ve experienced seeing how much joy each children eventually get out of reading or learning a new skill such as reading with emphasis, I’m reminded how great this program is.

I’ll never forget a 2nd grader who seemed to be a bit of a bully to other kids, who consistently ran ahead to the SMART room and hid from me. He always wanted me to read to him and wasn’t interested in picking out his own books. As he gained more confidence and read more and more indiviual words he eventually chose a Bob book. As he neared the end of the book, I could see his excitement grow. When he finished the story, he stood up with the book in his hand and shouted to the entire room, “I read the entire book by myself!”

As a person who has chosen not to have children, this is has been a great way for me to be connected to my community.

Story from:

Dianne Zarder, Coos County

A 2nd grader was struggling with reading, and I chose the book Giraffes Can’t Dance to read with her. In this wonderful book with terrific rhythms and artwork, a young giraffe wants to dance but his mother tells him that giraffes can’t dance. I asked the girl to read to me and I would help, and soon realized that she did better when we pointed together to the next word to read. She was getting better and better while I watched, so I commented about how she was remembering words she had learned earlier in the book, and reading almost a whole sentence all by herself. All of a sudden she said “My mother said I can’t read, but I can read now because of SMART.”