More than 700 volunteers are part of Hooked on Books, a one-on-one reading program that pairs inner city children with people from all segments of the population. Bankers, lawyers, elected officials, high school and college students, and senior citizens all act as designated storytellers for these children to promote reading success.
Hooked on Books was founded in 1989 by Dr. Dolores Sarafinski, a professor of English at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. The philosophy behind the program is that reading aloud to children is the most important factor in building reading success. Volunteer readers have the opportunity to share their own love for reading with a child. The benefits of this one-on-one interaction through reading are that it helps children overcome their apprehension of reading, it builds listening comprehension and vocabulary, and it increases attention span.
The children that participate in the Hooked on Books program are 7-14 year olds who do not have opportunities for someone to read aloud to them in the home. Over 50% of these children come from single parent homes. In some cases, the parent does not have time to read aloud to their children. In other cases, the parent lacks the reading skills necessary to make reading aloud a successful endeavor that instills a love of reading in their children.
When the program first began, the volunteers worked in the inner-city grade schools in Erie. In 1994, the program moved to Inner-City Neighborhood Art House, where it is now housed. Since Hooked on Books moved to the Art House, program volunteers have worked with over 1,000 children. These children choose to participate in the reading program for a semester or for a week during the summer, in addition to taking selected art or music classes.
The dedication of volunteer readers is critical to the success of Hooked on Books. Most volunteers read at least once a week to their child during the semester, or every day for a week in the summertime. They are able to build a relationship with the child and tailor the book selection to match the child's interests. Volunteers make it possible for the kids to develop and maintain a love of reading. Also, the program has received support from the Pennsylvania Governor's office. The Neighborhood Art House was chosen as the site to introduce a new "Read to Succeed" initiative, and Lt. Governor Mark Schweiker read one of his favorite books to children in Hooked on Books program following the press conference.