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:

Veronika Newgard, Clackamas County

I have been a SMART volunteer for 15 years. I still love it! When I come back to my school, some of my kids come and hug me. When they do this, I know that I have done something right. I am strict and do not put up with goofing around, nevertheless they get excited to see me. I love the whole experience. I love reading to and with them, looking at the pictures, and engaging in discussions with the children.

One thing that I find sad is that when they look at the pictures, some kids cannot identify the animals because they have never been to the zoo or a farm. They have never seen animals in real life. I just want to take them to the zoo!

One thing that really bothers me about some books is the poor grammar. Some books have horrible English, such as “me” instead of “I”. I look for the errors while reading with the children, and talk with them about how it should be. We correct obvious errors as we read. One child I read to would get so excited when he found the errors on his own! I turn the poor grammar into a lesson for the children.

Another child, a 2nd grader, wanted to be a football player. He really wanted to read a football book. He did not want to read anything unless it was a football book. Mary, the site coordinator, went out and found a football book. He wouldn’t put it down! All of a sudden, he could read. All because it was a book about something he was interested in.

Some children want to sit down and read, but they do not even know the letters, or they cannot see because they need glasses. This is such a challenge. I don’t know how teachers do it.

SMART is such a good program. I read to four kids. Since I live 30 minutes away I prefer to stay and read longer. I love to read, sing, and talk with the children. I really enjoy it. I always look forward to my volunteer time.

Story from:

Susan Rola, Deschutes County

I have been a SMART reader for over 15 years.  I signed up because I love books and I love children — what a no-brainer to volunteer to A) read, and B) be with children!  But I had no idea how much I would enjoy it.  I started when my own two kids were little, and now they are grown and gone, but I still love the feeling that only little kids can give you, when they see you at the classroom door and their eyes light up.  “My SMART reader’s here!”   And that moment, usually sometime in January or February, when it’s as if a light bulb comes on in the child’s mind, and as you’re reading a book together, this little person with so much potential that wasn’t awake yet can suddenly sound out a word, then many words, then read a sentence, then read a whole book to you.  There’s just nothing like it.  SMART is special because it encourages friendship and bonding between an adult and a child over a good book, and both come away from it enriched.

Story from:

Mary Chisholm, Deschutes County

Wow, 20 years already? My first readers have graduated from high school and college! I myself was a young 46 when I started as a SMART volunteer – and now I am a young 65!

I began as a SMART volunteer when the program started in 1992 with 8 schools, including La Pine Elementary. SMART was spearheaded by the Oregon Children’s Foundation led by former Governor, Neil Goldschmidt. Mr. Goldschmidt stated that SMART was …”one person stepping forward to help one child succeed. Making a personal commitment to children is the most important contribution you can make to the future of Oregon.” I wanted to be that one person. At that time Sunriver Properties, who owned Sunriver Lodge & Resort, sponsored the SMART program for La Pine Elementary. I live in Sunriver and the Sunriver community had the largest single contingent of volunteers at that time.

When Three Rivers School in Sunriver implemented SMART in 1993, I started reading there since it was right next to my office in the Sunriver Business Park – and 20 years later here I still am! I have really enjoyed sharing my love of reading with all 37 of my SMART readers.

I have kept a log of the students and the year I was their SMART reader – 37 in all. Now I wish I would have kept a log of “the moments” I had with each of them. What I do remember and still treasure are the smiles and hugs when I show up in their room for our reading time. I do still have the mementos they made at the end of the year – whether it was a handmade card, a plant, or a photo. I could see the bond develop as the year progressed – and how their confidence developed at the same time. My SMART time was and still is an important FUN break in my week. Of course an added bonus is the opportunity to read all of the wonderful children’s books!

Knowing that I played some small part in developing a “love of reading” in my 37 readers is why I am still a SMART reader! Since I could have another 20 years with SMART, I guess I will start that log of “moments with my readers!” next year.

Story from:

Geri Rumbaugh, Clark County

I have been volunteering for SMART for about 13 years. I started it because I really missed reading to my daughter. I like using different voices and enjoy getting quite animated when I read. I know the kids really enjoy it, but I believe I get as much enjoyment out of it as they do. Just like the kids, I look forward to it every week.

I work a stressful job. I love when I leave work and go straight to the school to read to the kids. I love walking into the school and smelling the cafeteria lunches. I love the whole environment. It is just wonderful. It plain and simple does my heart good.

I do not live in the area, but am still very involved with the school I read at. I come to a variety of events at the school, such as the read-a-thons, the book fairs and author’s night. SMART has not only made a difference for the school, but for the whole community.

I absolutely love the SMART program. I miss it when it is not available in the summertime. I know the children get a lot out of it, but so do I. It is very special to me, and I will continue to read at the school until they no longer have SMART.