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:

Monty Macoubrie, Multnomah County

As a retired English teacher, I think the SMART program is a great idea. In today’s society, kids need all the help they can get.  I read with a kindergartner and first grader this year, and both became more and more comfortable with me throughout the year as we read one-on-one. I loved seeing their improvement.

Story from:

Nancy Howard, Clackamas County

I am a retired elementary school librarian and my husband is a retired elementary school teacher, so we value SMART’s efforts to help kids read.  Kids still need help learning how to read. If they can’t read, they are shut out. Reading is a foundation for every class they take, and for every opportunity they have in life after school.

Story from:

Myrna Hall, Clackamas County

I first heard of SMART because my son, Alan, had signed up to read as a volunteer. He enjoyed reading with the kids so much that he became inspired to go into teaching as a career (he now works as a substitute teacher!) I started supporting SMART so I could help sponsor the books that the kids in the program receive. Reading is so important because it gets kids interested in the subjects they read about.


Story from:

EmmyLou Johnson, Multnomah County

I’ve volunteered for SMART at three different schools over a period of about 15 years. I have really enjoyed it.

I am now 83 years old, and thankful that I still get around well enough to keep on working with the program. I enjoy it very much, not just the children but the leaders also, who always do a fabulous job.

My favorite day is the day we give out books. The kids really enjoy building their own at-home library. I love to see the excitement in the children on those particular days.

With my youngest grandchild now 20 years old, volunteering for SMART has been my one connection to younger children. I used to teach preschool and run a Sunday school program at my church, so I have a long history of working with kids. The program provides me with the chance to “keep my finger in the pie”, so to speak, to help little readers. I have never found anything that I do not like about the program. It is a great program that serves a wonderful purpose.

Story from:

Grace Sledge, Multnomah County

Some time ago, I received notes from the mothers of the children I worked with. A couple times I got Christmas cards, thanking me for working with their child.

At the end of SMART, depending on the available funds, the schools held various activities. They would have little parties with punch and cookies. The kids got a big kick out of it!

One time, at the end of the program, they had a brunch. A lady came up to me, and it was the mother of one of the children I read with. Although the parents weren’t invited, she came anyway, specifically to thank me for being so nice to her son.

I thought it was very nice that she took the time and effort to come to the brunch and meet me. It was evident I had made a positive difference in her son’s life. This is one special instance that sticks out to me, and that I will always remember.

Story from:

Costa Columbus, Multnomah County

When I started reading for SMART the emphasis was primarily to teach the kids to read.  Lately, however, there has been more of a trend toward communicating with the children and establishing a sense of trust and comfort. I firmly believe that establishing trust with the student is very essential. If a feeling of trust is there, getting the kids to read is going to be much easier than if it’s not.  The development of trust and bonding was, in my opinion, an important shift in the program over the years. Of course, the aim of teaching to read is still there, because that is what the program is based on. Regardless, I was really glad to see that the emphasis also includes establishing a comfortable, trusting relationship.

When I think back about my 12 years at SMART, there is a young girl that I recall. This girl was so shy, not only did we rarely read, but, initially,  she would not even look up at me. At the end the year she became much more comfortable. The following year, I learned that this girl was reading very well. I would like to think that I had something to do with her achievement, at least I hope I did. It was quite a transformative experience for both of us, and it was very rewarding for me.

Story from:

Lu Streetman, Crook County

I have been involved with the SMART program for 17 years, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. It is a very rewarding program to see kids work and strive to improve their reading skills each week. It opens their minds to a whole new world of learning. It encourages them to pursue new avenues of learning, like cultures of other countries, traveling; both local and abroad, different types of food, sports, and various languages.

It is wonderful to see the youngsters that you have read to and with develop good reading skills throughout grade school, high school, and onto college, just because they were so encouraged in their earlier years by the SMART program. Thank you.

Story from:

Doris Snodgrass, Clatsop County

My husband, Walt Snodgrass, and I moved to Seaside in 1991 and became aware of the SMART program. We volunteered at Seaside Heights. We enjoyed reading to the children for many years, and when my husband died, I continued to do so. I have kept a number of pictures that were taken of us with children we read to, and have enjoyed seeing them grow up and graduate from high school.

Volunteering for SMART is such a great thing to do. I hated to see it stop, and am so glad it started up again. I hope the organization continues to grow and become more successful so that it will be around for a long time.

Story from:

Kimberly Spangler, Multnomah County

A few years ago, I was reading with a 2nd grader named Jacob.  He was a delightful, easy going and engaging student.  During our time together, he became a more confident reader, taking over much of the reading himself. Word pattern books were a great source of success for him so we chose that type of book to read together.

On this particular day, we chose a book about transportation.  Part way through our reading session, we came to two pages about how cars are powered.  On one side of the page was a solar powered car and the sentence “this car is solar powered”. On the opposite page was a picture of a gas powered car with the sentence, “this car is gas powered.”  Jacob was reading to me so, I stopped him to talk about what we had just read and engage him with the story.  Looking at him I said, “Isn’t that fascinating.  Cars can be gas powered or sun powered.  My car is gas powered.  How does your car run?”  And with total excitement in his voice and not missing a beat, he replied “Hotwired and you don’t need a key or anything to start it.” In my mind, I was sure that I could think of at least one or two innocuous reasons for a person to be driving a hot wired car but, I loved that for him, this was all about the magic of not needing a key.

Later that day, as I thought about this encounter, it occurred to me how little we know about the realities of these children’s lives.  SMART is the great equalizer; a place where there is no judgment and you are not defined by your circumstances.  Whatever else either one of us may be struggling with, fretting over, distracted by, for this 30 minutes we are just two readers, sharing our undivided attention with each other, celebrating books and in the process, exploring the infinite nature of what is possible.  It is that mutually beneficial exploration, that has kept me involved with this program for two decades.

Story from:

Sandy Hanneman, Tillamook County

SMART will always be important to me!  Early in 2000, the program became a reality in Tillamook County.  Our school (Nestucca Valley Elementary) began with a pilot program that Spring.  When I retired from teaching 1st grade that Summer, I had already wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agreed to be a volunteer coordinator there.  The next four years as a coordinator brought many joys!  Our community’s volunteer readers came out in force when asked, and all the teachers cooperated to the fullest.  When watching students interact with the volunteers, it was very apparent that most of them loved the attention and were influenced by their volunteer’s enthusiasm for books and reading.  I have continued as a volunteer reader since 2000, because the program works!