Wednesdays at The DeBerry Group are always busy. As copywriter, I’m usually focused in on my computer, writing copy for our clients’ websites and ads, or in meetings brainstorming new campaigns with my teammates. But before all that begins, you can find me reading books in the library at Kelly Elementary School with a couple of 2ndgraders.
I’m a Reading Buddy for San Antonio Youth Literacy (SAYL), which means I get to spend time with two kiddos every week to help them with their literacy skills. From reading books aloud to playing word bingo, the activities we do every week are designed to help the kids improve their reading and comprehension.
I heard about SAYL while listening to Texas Public Radio (TPR) on my way home from work one day. TPR, along with SAYL, hosted an event featuring A Way with Words, a call-in radio show where two linguists discuss the origin of our language—basically a dream come true for a word nerd like myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the event, but the mention of SAYL got me hooked. Spending time with kids and reading are two of my favorite things in the world…what a perfect volunteer opportunity.
One in 6 children who are behind in their reading level in 3rdgrade do not graduate from high school on time, which is why it’s SAYL’s vision that every child in South Texas enters 3rdgrade reading on level.
The two kids I was assigned were chosen because they are reading at a 1stgrade level while in 2ndgrade, but their struggles have not influenced their enthusiasm in the slightest. During our first introductory session, one of my 2ndgraders spoke at length about her favorite book, “The Cat in the Hat” and how reading is her favorite subject. This was heartwarming to me, as Dr. Seuss was my absolute favorite as a child (I liked “The Cat in the Hat,” but I was particularly fond of “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket”).
My other student, when presented with a book about sharks—his favorite animal—his eyes lit up as he learned about how many rows of teeth they have (between 5-15) and what type of fish they like to eat (krill, mostly). This book was his key to an exciting new world and with every page, he was unlocking a door to adventure. As adults, when faced with something difficult, we don’t often find that thing exciting. Either we procrastinate, grumble through it, or avoid it altogether. But these seven-year-olds are all about reading—sometimes I have to remind them not to run in the halls on the way to the library because they’re so excited—despite it being a pain point for them academically.
Whatever your interests are—kids, literacy, animals, the elderly, politics, health—there’s a volunteer opportunity for you in San Antonio. If you have an extra hour or two a week, volunteering with a local organization can become a rewarding way to give back to the community, while also having fun. Signing up with SAYL was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My weekly school visits are often the highlight of my week. The kids are a blast (they really do say the darndest things, don’t they?) and I’m using my unique talents to help others. If that’s not a win-win, I don’t know what is.