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:

Kent Lewis, Multnomah County

In 2000, a co-worker invited a SMART representative to our offices to talk about the literacy program. Having been a mentor and Big Brother in the past, I was immediately intrigued by the opportunity to help young students with reading readiness. I realized the impact of literacy as a future predictor of success (or failure) and wanted to help make a difference. After a few years of volunteering as a SMART reader, I decided to make SMART the beneficiary of a creative event which I called Anvil’s Get SMART Gala. For three years, my family and co-workers hosted the event, which became a dedicated annual fundraiser for SMART, generating $75,000. After that, I was invited to join the Board, Marketing and Executive Committees and have been a SMART volunteer reader and supporter ever since. I enjoy meeting eager youngsters each year, and watching as their reading skills improve. I haven’t found a better way to invest my time and money to impact the future of my community and the world-at-large. Thank you, SMART!

Story from:

Renee Jones, Lane County

I was having a hard time connecting with one of my new little guys. He seemed uninterested, always sat with his arms crossed, and he kept insisting, “I can’t read.” I had to find a way to get him to realize that he could indeed read, so I came in early on one of our reading days to find the “perfect” book. The books that at least seemed to spark an interest in him had animals in them, and I found a cute little frog book that had the word, “Frog” in big bold letters on every single page. When I started reading to him, I got to the word, “Frog” on the first page and said it in a funny, loud voice, and made a funny expression, while I pointed to the word. I did the same on the next page, and he giggled, then on the third page, I pointed to the word, made the funny face, and waited for just a second…and then he said, “Frog!” Pretty soon, he was so involved in the book; just waiting for the next time that word would come so he could read it. By the middle of the book, I was no longer pointing to the word, he was. When we got to the end of the book and he had read the last, “Frog,” he clutched the book to his chest and said, “I’ve never read a WHOLE book before!” And from that day forward, his interest was piqued, he got excited when he saw me waiting for him every Monday, and I had a hard time keeping up with him as he swiftly walked down the hallway to get to his next SMART session. This little guy changed my life.

Story from:

Beth Karlin, Multnomah County

Twenty years ago, I worked for Wieden & Kennedy. Dan Wieden encouraged all of us to volunteer for SMART and made it easy for us to do so. He gave us an hour every week to read with our SMART students and invited them into the agency for celebrations. He eventually started a camp for our students. Now, 20 years later I am in my 7th year as an elementary school teacher. Did SMART change my life? YOU BET!!!!

Story from:

Maggie, Deschutes County

As a third grader, I was taken out of class to sit with volunteers to practice reading. Unfortunately, my memories were not great. I always had an an unsettled feeling surrounding reading. Even into my early adult life. I do not remember being teased by classmates but I do remember the shame I felt having to leave my normal classroom to read with special strangers. I felt excluded, stupid, and came to really dislike the room with the blue door. 25 years later, I still remember the walk down the hallway to the room with the blue door.

As an adult, I have been able to create positive feelings for myself about books and reading. The wonder of story telling is such a great treasure. After hearing about SMART, I wanted to create new positive memories for myself and children regarding reading.

I volunteered with SMART in Bend, Oregon for three years, and look forward to going back. I met some wonderful kids who, by the time the year was over, made great strides in their reading skills. I have seen two of the kids I read with in town and both have come up to say ‘hi’ and given me hugs. I am so thankful for SMART giving me a second chance to create positive memories with reading at center of it all.

Story from:

Betsy Skovborg, Deschutes County

When I first moved back to Bend, we were a young married couple with no children. My husband Jordy and I wanted to be involved in the community and we chose to be SMART readers. It was so fulfilling to see the children improve upon their reading throughout the school year. And when we would arrive to read their little faces would light up with excitement. It is also a very easy way to give back due to the very small time commitment, but with huge gratification! Now that our own children and work keep us very busy, we continue to be yearly donors to the SMART program. Thank you SMART for enriching the children of tomorrow.

Story from:

Amy Brown, Multnomah County

Having volunteered (and worked) with SMART for 11 years, numerous stories come to mind. However the one about Marcus stands out…

Marcus was a “tough kid” who didn’t want to be bothered with SMART. He was quite happy in his art class (thank you very much), and he seemed rather annoyed when I arrived to read with him. Marcus was older than most SMART kids, and a slow reader…initially. However he knew how to “sound out” words and I could see how good he felt when he did. After a couple weeks of dragging himself to SMART, and apparently enjoying the reading experience, I finally asked, “so Marcus, do you like to read?” A quiet, “yes,” he replied. “So next week, when I come to read with you, will you be excited to see me?” Another quiet, “yes,” with a smile, was his response. From that day on, when I arrived to take Marcus to the SMART room, he literally jumped out of his chair and ran to read with me. The speed and flow of his reading increased dramatically over the course of the school year, and by the last day of the program, Marcus was so engrossed in books that he insisted on finishing the one he was reading to me, before enjoying treats with the other kids at their year-end SMART party. What a transformation.

The reading engagement and confidence that SMART instills in children, although not always as visible as it was with Marcus, helps set young students on course for success in school and life. Cheers to SMART for 20 years of making a meaningful difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Oregon’s children!

Story from:

Betty Cate, Multnomah County

I have been a SMART volunteer for 11 plus years now, and wish that more older people would join us helping the kids. I am 86 years old, and I am not really maternal person. I like children, but I also know that they have their good days and bad days. After all they are human.

It has been such a joy, and I wish I had known about it earlier.

One girl who had been struggling with her reading, really improved and told me I was the best SMART reader there was. (I think she was having some problems outside of school, but you do not ask.)

I have read on Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 – 10:30. One time the kindergarten teacher asked us if we would help with a project in her room. (This had never happened before nor since.) Anyway, when we got to the room, they were not settled in yet. I sat next to my student, across from me was a little boy and next to him was a little girl. The little boy across from me asked “what is wrong with your face?” I said “pardon” He repeated “what is wrong with your face?” I said “I don’t know” (I thought maybe I had a speck of dirt or something.) He then said It is so OLD!” Happily the teacher called for order then.
He was so serious, his big dark eyes were sort of concerned looking.

There have been many sweet times and as I said, I just wish some of the older people would volunteer as there is a need. It takes so little effort, and you are doing something useful. An added bonus is that you can learn so much as the books are GREAT.

Story from:

Joyce Claussen, Linn County

While accepting accolades for being “a really great coordinator,” I simply reply: “I am just an average person doing an important job for SMART”.

This is true of many SMART volunteers. Most of us are average people doing important work for SMART.

Story from:

Mary Krakow, Deschutes County

SMART changes lives. As adult SMART readers we like to think we are giving something wonderful to the children. The truth is they give us back something just as wonderful. One hour a week I plunked down to read with lively, energetic, curious children. One hour a week I watched timid children bloom. One hour a week I listened to their hopes and fears. One hour a week proved their growing confidence with books. One hour a week gave me such joy!

Then I became a SMART volunteer coordinator. Thank you volunteers for the time, expertise, and stories that you shared. Each volunteer was a different version of a mother hen. Some bought jackets in the winter for children who went without. Some provided unconditional friendship in difficult times. Others brought consistency to young lives. Men became positive role models for children in households headed by single mothers.

And the teachers showed such generosity! Teachers recognize the value that SMART brings to their students. Teachers allow their neediest children to leave the classroom to listen to stories. Teachers provide extra practice materials for volunteers to help students succeed. Teachers share student success with volunteers.

SMART changes lives. Students feel success. Volunteers feel valued. Coordinators feel grateful. Teachers feel support. SMART builds community.

Story from:

Cheryl Nangeroni, Multnomah County

I became involved with Smart by attending Stephanie Oliver’s 60th birthday party 10 years ago, where she gave us a mini-presentation about Smart and asked people to buy books for Smart instead of presents for herself.

I love children’s books, and, being a graphic designer, love pointing out all the little stories occurring in the illustrations, as my reading partner and I read a book together.

Communication with the kids as well as reading to them, or them to me, or acting out parts of the story, all seem to help the children with their reading skills. One student did an interpretive dance as I read her the story, when she was bored with just reading one day.

Some kids want to be read to most of the year, and then, wow me with a perfect reading when we do a group read, where all the kids read two pages of the story and show the pictures to the others. It is as rewarding for them as it is for me, for them to succeed with their peers.

I also use opportunities to help with reading skills, by sending postcards to my kids when I happen to be on a trip during a week or two of Smart. They get to receive mail, read the card to the group and learn about another place.

One time, I and another reading partner had both been to Australia. We gave a show and tell with globes to teach how far away Australia is, and got ready to read books brought back from down under with the group, when one child asked if we saw each other when we were both in Australia!

Lots of sweet memories of all my Smart kids, and the way their eyes light up as they rush into the Smart room and see me waiting to read with them, keep me coming back each year.

Happy birthday Smart!