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:

Tanya Offerdahl, Clackamas County

I have been a SMART volunteer for two years and I look forward to my reading days every week. I love getting to see the progress my students make throughout the school year. My first year in SMART my two students would not read, so I read to them every week. By the end of the school year they each read parts of a book to me and I was so proud of their confidence and progress!!
I am so privileged to be a small part of their world of reading and imagination. It always puts a smile on my face when I see my student walk in the room to read every week!

Story from:

Dea’Naisa Willingham, Multnomah County

I am just turning 20 years old and was one of the first SMART students at Vernon Elementary School. My love for reading was founded on the SMART Reading program. I remember being so excited to get out of class and go read with my mentor and go on mini adventures in my head while reading books like Green Eggs and Ham, Corduroy, The Berenstain Bears, Junie B. Jones, and all the TreeHouse books. The Goosebumps series. Reading has made my life soooo much easier because it helps me escape when I want and the skill gives me clarity on what needs to be done in everyday life. I was also a mentor in the SMART Program at Humbolt Elementary throught POIC/Rosemary Anderson High School. I enjoyed reading to the little ones!

Story from:

Patty Turner

After years of volunteering in our childrens’ classrooms, when our youngest entered 8th grade, I knew it was time for me to move on, too. So I went back to the beginning–reading with young students. This fall will be my 10th year of reading at the same school. I love the weekly time spent with enthusiastic readers. Two years ago, while reading with a first grade boy, he suddenly realized he could read the words I was reading to him. He had me go back to the beginning of the book. I read aloud, while running my finger below the words. He would read the words he knew and I would read the others. He was so excited!! It gave me chills to watch his excitement. On our way back to his classroom, he announced to each staff member we passed that he could now read. That’s what being a SMART volunteer is all about! If children cannot read, they cannot tackle any other subject in school–history, math, geography, science. I love helping instill the love of reading with children.

Story from:

Joe Galati, Principal at Chief Joseph Elementary, Multnomah County

SMART has been invaluable at Chief Joseph Elementary in North Portland for the past 15 years. In that time, the SMART Volunteers have provided a service that has been responsible for creating a love of reading for both our students and for our volunteers. The smiles on both the volunteer and the student are something to behold. We are grateful for this service because it continues to grow exponentially with volunteers, it creates fellowship between the student and the adult, and a special love for reading is a result. My story occurs each and everyday that the SMART volunteers walk through the front doors of our school. Like our students, the volunteers are also our special jewels of the North.

Story from:

Wainanwit Schroeder

My story begins with my daughter Laura and it is actually her story. In 2008 she was told by her doctors she would need a kidney transplant. So on January 30, 2009, she received her kidney transplant and the school, teachers and employees were kept informed of her status. A couple of weeks after her transplant, a SMART volunteer showed up at the hospital and brought her a t-shirt and hat and books and read with her. He was informed by her school that she was in the hospital so he came to visit her. That was pretty exciting and fun for her.

Story from:

Tony Korala, Multnomah County

As a first generation immigrant to this country, my knowledge, pronunciation and accent was differerent than the majority. I had to learn the “correct way” thru trial, error and sometimes embarrassment. SMART has given me an opportunity to save the minority children that I read to from this setback.

Story from:

Annie Thomas, Deschutes County

My worst moment with SMART came a few years ago when the program was no longer available in all Redmond schools. My best moment with SMART comes when I am able to connect with two children weekly for seven months. It is the joy of my week to listen to them read or cry because of home situations or simply be honest and say they jut don’t feel like reading today. They come with a variety of skills, needs, jokes, flights of imagination and sometimes even grumpiness. They have been the delight of my life for l6 years.

Story from:

Pennie Burns, Hood River County

I moved to Oregon from San Diego, Calif. about three years ago. Soon after I began to hear about the SMART program and it really captured my interest.

I was a high school teacher for 35 years in San Diego County, and I know about the effects of poor reading ability and low interest in reading. This problem hinders learning in almost every school subject and I am sure is responsible for many dropouts at the high-school level. I wanted to get involved in doing something for younger students that can have long-range positive outcomes. In my very first year I noticed amazing progress in the boys I worked with. It feels good to continue to help with the education of young people!

Story from:

Phylis Marsh, Umatilla County

1. One little girl so shy she would not look at me or talk at first, she did begin to read and about the middle of the year asked “can we have a sleep over at your house?”

2. One little girl would read “Silly Sally” with her eyes closed.

3. One of my first girls was reading to the littler ones a few years later.

Story from:


The twinkle in the student’s eyes as they share with me their new book makes my heart soar. Then there is the eagerness for those students who have been on the waiting list, “I want to go! Send me! Send me!” Such fun!!!