Feb. 27

These Volunteers Give Kids a Gift Every Child Can Use

One encourages kids to read to his dogs. Another wraps books as birthday presents. In ways that are meaningful to them, they are helping our nation’s children learn to read.

ziggy_reads_the_word_wave.jpgTerrance Brown shows elementary school kids a trick with his dog, Ziggy, during which Ziggy appears to be reading.

First Book and Points of Light today announced that five such volunteers from across the country – all dedicated to improving literacy in their communities – will receive the Daily Point of Light Award.

The honor, created by Points of Light founder President George H. W. Bush 25 years ago, showcases the power of individuals to tackle community needs through volunteer service.

The awards are being presented next week, starting on March 2, in coordination with the National Education Association’s annual Read Across America Day.

Volunteers are vital in addressing literacy at a time when 42 percent of U.S. children – more than 30 million – live in low-income households, most without age-appropriate books. Their homes and schools often lack the quality reading resources the students need.

“Without solid reading skills, children face severely limited academic and career options later in life,” said Delores Morton, Points of Light’s president of programs. “By using their time, passion and talents to help kids learn to read, these Daily Point of Light honorees set an example for all of us who see challenges in our communities and want to be part of the solution.”

Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book, added, “These extraordinary volunteers have shown such dedication to helping children read, learn and succeed. We are grateful for their efforts and hope their stories inspire many more people to take action, from helping a child learn to read to raising money to support a local school or program.”

nina_nelan_for_blog.jpgNina Nelan, left, with her reading buddy, Anastasia Medina

The Daily Point of Light awardees are:

Terrance Brown (Latham, New York) – A retired combat veteran, Brown knows the therapeutic power of dogs, as his own dog helped him manage post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, with two Shetland sheepdogs, Brown is giving confidence to 120 elementary school students struggling with reading. The children who are reluctant to read aloud often feel more comfortable if they are able to read to the dogs.

Tiffany James (Baltimore) – James tutors a child weekly through Reading Partners, a nonprofit that connects students in low-income communities with tutors. She has helped recruit co-workers from the Baltimore Parking Authority as volunteers and helped organize a book drive that collected more than 2,400 books for children.

Cara McCollum (Forrest City, Arkansas) – In 2008, McCollum founded the Birthday Book Project, a nonprofit that sends new, gift-wrapped books to children in need for their birthdays – to show them what a gift reading can be. McCollum has sent more than 25,000 books to children in New Jersey and Arkansas.

Nina Nelan (Denver) – A tax director at PwC, Nelan recruited dozens of co-workers to join her for Power Lunch, a reading program that matches each volunteer with a third grade “buddy” attending a Denver public school. Buddies read together weekly for a year. Last year, the volunteers helped boost kids’ reading by 1½ grade levels.

Jeannette Winkelman (Richardson, Texas) – Winkelman, who taught English as a second language (ESL) for 20 years, was instrumental in establishing ESL classes for adults at her church. Those classes eventually led to the creation of Read With Me, a church program that enlists volunteers to read with children during the summer.

More than 5,300 volunteers across the country have received the Daily Point of Light Award for addressing a variety of issues in their communities, from health care to homelessness. Points of Light accepts nominations year-round at  

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