Altrusa Read-In for Literacy promotes reading

Nancy Kirkland, a retired Buchholz High School english teacher and member of Altrusa Club of Gainesville, reads the book 'If You Give a Dog a Donut', by author Laura Numeroff, to kindergarteners in teacher Kristen Brooks' class at Talbot Elementary School on Friday.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 1, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.

Volunteers visited kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms at 22 elementary schools this week to share some of their favorite books with children as a part of the Altrusa Club’s 17th annual Read-in for Literacy.

“We want the children to know that reading a book and even looking at the pictures is really fun,” said Barbara Bengston, an Altrusa member who read at Lake Forest Elementary, where she used to teach art.

Altrusa organizes the event to promote literacy in schools and to show children that their teachers aren’t the only ones who enjoy reading. Bengston said by having people who aren’t school personnel volunteer to read, children get to see reading and literacy in a different light.

“That’s our main goal, to show children that lots of people enjoy reading and that reading is fun,” she said.

Seventeen years ago the event began with only three schools participating. Since then, it has grown in size and popularity.

“It’s been a very popular project with the schools,” said Marge Baker, an Altrusa member who has been involved with Read-in for Literacy since its inception.

Baker was working as the volunteer coordinator for Alachua County Public Schools when someone from Altrusa contacted her to see if she could help organize a weeklong event to help advocate literacy in schools. Baker joined Altrusa shortly after and has continued to be involved in the development of Altrusa’s Read-in for Literacy.

Of all Altrusa’s events, the read-in calls for the most community involvement. Each year, it enlists the help of almost 300 volunteer guest readers.

“There are a lot of people involved when you consider the number of readers that each school has and the number of coordinators,” Bengston said.

The communitywide effort helps promote Altrusa’s message of reading as a fun activity that is enjoyed by many people.

“We’re just someone from the community, and we want to read a story to you,” Bengston said.

Readers can share their favorite children’s books and are encouraged to tell children how reading has been important in their lives.

“We’re there to share the joy of reading and how much reading means to us and our lives and to have a good time,” Baker said.

In addition to reading to children, Altrusa also donates books to each elementary school’s library as part of the read-in. Baker said Altrusa has been donating books since the read-in began and over the years it adds up to a significant contribution.

To buy the books for the libraries, Altrusa hosts a Christmas party where members give money to help fund the purchase. This year, Baker said they spent around $1,700 on new books that were recommended by the school district’s media center supervisor. Each school received six new books this year. Donated books aren’t just for the grades that are being read to.

“There’s always one or two chapter books for the fourth and fifth grade to enjoy,” Bengston said.

The purpose of Altrusa International of Gainesville is to better the community by bringing together volunteers to determine and accommodate the needs of the local area through service and initiative.

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