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Volunteer

A round of applause for reading

Authored by New Haven Reads Executive Director Kirsten Levinsohn

I became a tutor at New Haven Reads six months before I became the executive director, and for nine years straight I worked with the same two students each week. 

A couple of years ago, my first student graduated from high school and headed for college. My heart swelled with pride. Last June, I was overcome with pride again when my second student set off to higher education. This fall I began tutoring a new student. Her name is Graciela.

Graciela is a second-grader but reads at an early first-grade level. Like all of our students, she wants to learn to read; to access the adventure, knowledge, and excitement in the books on the shelf. In our few times together so far, we have practiced sight words, sounded out words, read slowly together, and played educational games.  

Like all of our students, she wants to learn to read; to access the adventure, knowledge, and excitement in the books on the shelf.

Just last week, Graciela read a short book all by herself. Somewhere along the way, the achievement became apparent to her. She paused and glanced up at me, beaming. “Look!” she said. “I’m reading now!” Although she has a ways to go, something important had changed: she now knew she would get there. 

I told this story the night of the Spelling Bee, during my opening remarks. When I reached the part where Graciela began reading on her own, the auditorium⁠—filled with more than 375 people⁠—erupted in applause. We accomplished so much that night, raising $34,000 for literacy programs, but the rush of applause was especially striking. 

Community members who support New Haven Reads believe in, and care about, every single child we serve. Even children they don’t know personally. They recognize the joy and power of educational milestones for young students, and that learning to read is a true cause for celebration. Each day at New Haven Reads, during each tutoring hour and with each tutor-student pair, a story is unfolding that would elicit that same applause. 

The magic of New Haven Reads is that our community makes our work possible. Together, we tutor 550 students each week, including Graciela. At the same time, our waitlist has never been longer: 230 students waiting for a tutor to step forward and cheer them on

Our lives change together through the time we spend in books.

Since we opened our doors almost 19 years ago, we have made remarkable strides: 

  • 4,000 children tutored
  • 3,500 volunteer tutors from our community
  • 500 field trips hosted 
  • 2 million books distributed

This may sound like a bunch of numbers, but we are talking about wonderful children with real dreams—none of which can come to fruition until they first learn to read.

It’s an honor to guide Graciela on her journey to literacy, and to have seen my former two students grow over time, not just into readers but into bright young learners on the path to success. Our lives change together through the time we spend in books. I hope you’ll join me and volunteer to work with a child today.