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:

Connie Freiermuth, Tillamook County

I bonded with the second grader who I read with over goats. He was one of six boys whose family operated a goat farm. He liked to read books about animals and, during our reading time, he told me each boy in his family was responsible for caring for their own small herd of 5-6 goats.

I had recently returned from a volunteer mission in Southern Sudan and I told my reader about how all the goats wandered all over the town of Juba during the day eating from the piles of rubbish. Every morning the goat owners let their goats out and every afternoon at 5:00 pm the goats went home. I shared a picture of a goat on a war-torn street in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, with my reader so he could tell me what kind of goats lived in Juba. He said they were Nubian goats – the same kind his family was raising on their farm.

He took the picture home to confirm with his father and the next time we read together, with a big smile, he told me that his father agreed that the goat in my picture were Nubian. This little boy was so curious and a joy to work with twice a week.

Story from:

Tom Gilbertson, Multnomah County

If kids don’t get a chance for education, they fall through the cracks. SMART helps create a connection between a child and a caring adult – that’s why I got involved.  But the people are what keep me coming back. The commitment of the staff, board, and volunteers is infectious.

Story from:

Greg Higgins, Multnomah County

I was fortunate to have parents help encourage me with my academics. Reading certainly helped me move up in my career. I worry that computers are impairing our society’s ability to comprehend significant content, and I would hate to see reading supplanted by that.

Story from:

Jim Lillis, Multnomah County

If a young person isn’t up to reading at grade-level by the third grade, they have a terrible time catching up. Reading is the basis for all things. SMART makes it fun. And the kids kept me coming back.

Story from:

Jim Cox, Washington County

Jim Cox was a SMART reader for five years. An experience that sticks out in Jim’s memory happened one morning when Jim went into school and found that his regular 3rd grade girl wasn’t in her classroom. He was told that the students were on their way in from recess. Jim walked to end of the hall, and the door swung open with the teacher leading a group of kids in a single-file line. Within moments, the little girl saw Jim and ran up to him. She jumped into his arms beaming from ear to ear. Jim recalls, “It made my heart go ‘pitter-patter’.”

Story from:

Dawn Chavez, Crook County

I have many great SMART memories over the past 16 years. A little boy I had right after I started volunteering for SMART sticks in my mind as he was so thrilled each reading day. He was so polite, and on the last reading day for the season I gave him a bookmark I had made. He looked at it, looked at me and said, “I have a box with all my special things in it, this is gonna go in there so I can keep it forever.” I had a little girl one year who acted as if she could have cared less to come and read. I told her it was going to be the last reading day for the year the following week and she looked at me, her eyes started to well up and she said, “you mean I’ll never see you again?” Oh my, it nearly brought me to tears. I had a kindergarten reader, I was lucky enough to watch her grow up and graduate high school, she went off to college and I ran into her at the Post Office the other day. She told me she had a fantastic job in Southern California and was so excited to start. I love reading and I love to share books with the kids I read with each year.

Story from:

Kathleen Kent, Multnomah County

I have been a SMART volunteer for many years. I became great friends with one of my first readers and his family when he was seven years old, until he was about eleven or twelve. Then, through many moves and different schools, we lost contact with each other. A few years passed and I received a telephone call asking if I remembered him, and of course I did. It was so thrilling to hear his voice, as I had thought and wondered about him for such a long time. He was calling to invite us to his high school graduation.

This boy was from a very dysfunctional family – I was so proud of this accomplishment with all the adverse things that had happened in his life. We always were touched by his wanted us to represent him on Grandparents Day. One of his teachers, who was adopted, once said to me, “you have no idea how important it is for these children to have some association with a person that is a steady and consistent influence for them”.

Thanks to SMART, I have this wonderful memory of a very special boy. It was such a satisfying experience to be involved in his life through the SMART program – it truly makes a difference.

Story from:

Ann Onstott, Wasco County

I couldn’t read until the 3rd grade. We found out later that I was dyslexic, but it was not diagnosed for quite some time. I got involved with SMART because I wanted to help kids who struggle like I did.

One little girl I read with was very shy in the beginning because she only spoke Spanish. Over the course of the year, I saw her change to a different person as she grew in confidence.  Another child I read with said it was “like magic” when he was suddenly able to figure it out.

The most important piece of SMART is the one-on-one attention – this gives children the feeling that “I’m special”. The students at Chenowith Elementary get upset if they aren’t chosen to read for SMART – everyone’s hands are up in the air!

What’s most important to give a child is your time and love.

Story from:

Bernice McNeel, Multnomah County

My time with SMART was very rewarding. The kids were great. Classes are so crowded now and the kids don’t necessarily get the attention they need. SMART makes them feel important because someone spends time with them individually.

One student I read with had experienced a very large tragedy in her life and she seemed very angry. Over time, she managed to work through the anger and hurt, and I heard later that she finished 5th grade with honors.

I disagree firmly with teaching computers so early. Reading, writing, and arithmetic should come first. SMART helps with teaching these basics.  The individual attention helped. I wish I could help more, but I can’t now, at 90 years-old. But I do still have the photos of my SMART students on my refrigerator.

Story from:

Charline McDonald, Multnomah County

I got involved in SMART because it seemed like a “win-win” program – for the kids in the schools and for the adults who become involved.  By volunteering with the program, adults become painfully aware of the challenges kids and schools are facing these days. That’s always a good thing.