California – Los Angeles: Reading to Kids

Rachel Corell

Rachel Corell has been volunteering since she was a child and continues to make volunteering part of her life. She has been a continuous volunteer with many organizations like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, AIDS Walk LA, the Special Olympics World Games, and various other organizations around the city. Rachel formerly worked as the Director of the UCLA Volunteer Center, connecting students, staff, faculty, alumni, retirees, and other community members to service opportunities around Greater Los Angeles. Since moving on to UC Irvine, she has worked closely with the campus’ Fifty for 50 Volunteer Program, a service-based initiative celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary. Rachel’s passion for education manifests itself in many aspects of her life, from her professional work experience to her monthly excursions to Los Angeles Elementary School, where she participates in the Reading to Kids program.

 

Reading to Kids is a Los Angeles based nonprofit which works with the Los Angeles Unified School District at eight different elementary schools, bringing together kids and members of the community the second Saturday of every month for reading clubs. A typical volunteer shift starts with a brief meet-up with other volunteers to organize and prepare for the following two hours of reading and crafts. Each month’s gathering engages students around an educational theme. For example, November’s theme will be College Spirit Month, and year after year, the UCLA vs USC rivalry has been expressed by friendly competition among volunteers. Amidst a sea of blue and gold, the schoolchildren grow excited at the prospect of college and enthusiastically participate in reading and crafts.

 

While the students read and craft, parents and guardians are highly encouraged to participate in parenting programs that are offered at the same school site. The intent of the parenting programs is to educate participants about best practices in parenting and how to encourage further reading at home and outside the classroom. To encourage participation of families each month, Reading To Kids sends families home with educational prizes and materials, books, refurbished computers, and and occasionally, gifts from UCLA.
 

 

This program runs year-round, and to Rachel, summer is the most impactful season, “because the kids are off from school for three months, so it’s important to continue their education and keep up their excitement about reading and learning.” Many of the schools partnering with Reading to Kids are in underserved neighborhoods, and the program provides a safe, fun environment on Saturday mornings where kids can play with adults and do arts and crafts. Rachel finds the program to be a comprehensive service which promotes “thinking, learning, and playing” and acknowledges that the children expressively love having a mentor.

 

Rachel loves the opportunity to go back to school and has been involved with the organization for the last five years. In that time, she’s read with kids of all grades from kindergarten to fifth grade, and loves seeing the same faces return year after year. She’s witnessed the kindergarteners she read to 5 years ago grow into the 5th graders she still sees today. Often times, she’ll read with siblings of students she’s read with in the past, and she loves to see the parents return.

 

 

Sometimes she’s unsure who benefits most from the program, the families or the volunteers. She loves working with second graders the most and always leaves the site smiling and optimistic. Rachel describes the second graders as having “a really good balance in which they’re eager to learn and excited about the reading clubs. They ask silly and fun questions about you,” which she loves to hear because she finds the curiosity of children of that age inspiring. The students are hopeful, young, and really enthusiastic. It’s clear that they like to be there, and sometimes kids say the darndest things. Rachel appreciates the inquisitive nature of the students to try to guess her age, inquire about her weekend plans, and in general try to understand more of the world outside of their neighborhood.

 

Reading to Kids has brought so much joy into Rachel’s life, and she is committed to the program. The impact of the program is visible every month when the students and their families arrive on Saturdays, even over summer, to participate. Families who otherwise couldn’t afford to provide their children with books are gifted them and taught how to promote literacy and encourage the pursuit of a college education. Rachel highly recommends that anyone who is interested in the organization consider the opportunity.

 

If you have an interest in Reading to Kids, visit readingtokids.org, where you can find information about volunteering , the various books they’ve read, and testimonials from other volunteers.

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