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April 17, 2015

Volunteer Bright Spots Abound in Sarasota and Manatee Counties

This post is part of a series highlighting the outstanding contributions of volunteers during National Volunteer Week April 12-18. These volunteers contribute meaningful time and talent that will contribute to the ongoing progress and success of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in our local community.

Here are some ways volunteers are making a difference in Manatee County:

United Way of Manatee County ReadingPals is an Early Literacy Initiative sponsored by a grant from Carol and Barney Barnett. A partnership with the School District of Manatee County, ReadingPals places volunteers in five Title I Elementary Schools. Community volunteers go into the schools and foster a mentoring relationship with their students focusing on vocabulary exposure and expansion, reading comprehension and developing a love for learning from books.

In the first three years of the program, more than 7,000 volunteer hours have been spent reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction books with students. When each weekly session ends, students in the program take home a free copy of that week’s book. At the end of each school year, over the course of 28 weeks, each child in the ReadingPals program has a home library of more than 25 books. During the three years of the program, ReadingPals has given nearly 9,000 books to the kindergartners in this program.

Partners in this program include United Way of Manatee County, School District of Manatee County, United Way Women United and community volunteers. Volunteer opportunities will begin again in September 2015. The program is looking for volunteers to read to kindergarten students once a week for one hour a week (or with a partner for ½ hour over 28 weeks.) To volunteer, contact Sandra Holmes at 941-748-1313 or Doreen Ravagnani at 941-748-1313 or For more information, visit

United Community Centers features the Reading Recovery/Balanced Literacy Program for at-risk kindergarten through third-grade students. This was initiated seven years ago by volunteers from Christ Church of Longboat Key. It currently serves 75 children who receive direct instruction four days a week from three certified, dedicated teachers and three dedicated aides. Children spend kindergarten through third grade learning to read. They spend every year thereafter reading to learn. If a child has not learned to read fluently by the end of the third grade, his or her window of opportunity closes.

You can mentor and be a reading buddy to a student in grades K-3 who are enrolled in the Reading Recovery Program.  For more information, contact Alexdrena Green (program) 941-746-7470 X 226 or Beverly Sutton (Reading Buddies)

Y READS is a literacy mentoring initiative targeting kindergarten through third-grade students. This program seeks to close the gap in students reading performance and the State of Florida’s reading performance expectations. YMCA READS will meet the needs of students by providing structured and supervised services. The primary focus will be on improving students reading skills. Additional services will be provided to develop the whole child, including meeting each child’s need for relationship-building and greater self-esteem. Volunteer mentors will develop the program under the supervision of the Program Director.

Partners include the Florida State Alliance of YMCAs, Bayshore Elementary School and the School District of Manatee County. To volunteer, complete an application by visiting or contact Dr. Moira Hendricks, the YMCA READS director – 941 798-9622 x408.

In Sarasota County, there’s no lack of inspiring opportunities, too: 

YReads at Laurel Nokomis has some outstanding volunteers who are making a difference.

Marsha Bruner is a grandmother of several children — some of whom attend Laurel Nokomis School. She is an active woman who generally loves children. At times, she goes to visit her grandbabies for lunch and then comes back to instruct some of the school’s struggling readers. She started volunteering by performing fluency activities with the students. Marsha was their biggest cheerleader. She was upbeat and positive and students begged to go read with her weekly. She now works with our SIPPS program and delivers individualized instruction. Marsha is a fantastic piece to our puzzle.

Makenna Burns is a 14-year-old freshman at Venice High School and originally was only looking for volunteer hours. Since she started volunteering here, Makenna has developed into a passionate teacher for these struggling students. She connects with them personally and was upset when she had to decrease her hours due to her own personal responsibilities. Makenna still volunteers twice a week and instructs our SIPPS program with ease and compassion. Students love to be paired with Makenna.

Kailey Hanrahan is a sophomore at Venice High School and was interested in our program after I spoke to their Early Childhood class about the opportunity. She has been with us since the beginning and has committed to volunteering three times a week with our students. She has taken interest in learning our SIPPS program, assisting with individual reading through comprehension questions, and conducting activities that precede a read aloud. Students enjoy talking with her and she is a great role model to our young learners.

To learn more, contact Melissa Abreu, YReads Coordinator, Laurel Nokomis Elementary: 941-525-4092;

Tuttle Elementary is fortunate to have strong community roots with deep support of diverse and dynamic volunteers from every walk of life. Our adult and senior volunteers are guides who are adult role models for our students — something that reaches beyond the walls of our school and into the community.  Ranging in age from 15 to 102 years old and representing cities worldwide, their collective “gift of time” is pivotal to the success of our students in the areas of Reading and Mathematics. They are all selfless, caring, and dedicated to the success of our students within the community of Sarasota!

In particular, I would like to spotlight one volunteer who has been with Tuttle for six-plus years, Mrs. Delores Asselin. During her primary career, she was a nurse and a homemaker. With her kind and patient nature, Delores is able to connect with every child she comes into contact. She volunteers in the first grade and with third grade students in our VIP (Volunteers Improving Proficiency) room twice a week. She is available to assist our Reading Support Team by preparing materials for students to read at home or for our teachers to use in their classrooms for individualized instruction. Delores is a kind-hearted person with whom students and staff appreciate. To learn more, contact Laurel Hinds, volunteer and business partner coordinator:; 941-361-6433

SOAR (Seed of Academic Resource) is a safe haven for children to learn and socially interact in a supervised environment. After retirement, Jackie Paulk, who taught for 38 years in several of our local elementary schools, embraced a new calling and began working extensively on after-school education programs for community youth. Mrs. Paulk works tirelessly to find funds to provide community children with tutoring and homework help programs. Her most recent efforts focus on SOAR at the Greater Hurst Chapel. Mrs. Paulk assesses the needs of each child so that their programing is specific to their needs before they are placed in small groups led by a teacher to work on developing essential reading skills. Mrs. Paulk and her team are making great strides in moving the needle on grade-level reading. To learn more, contact Jackie Paulk:

At Emma E. Booker Elementary School (EEB), a selfless volunteer, Ruthie Maass, has built an “army” of more than 120 volunteer reading tutors who, each year, help more than 280 students discover the love of reading as they develop and improve their reading skills. Each week, 18 classroom teachers can count on caring, dedicated, trained volunteer reading tutors to work one-to-one with their students—thanks to Ruthie. Her commitment to ensuring this meaningful experience to both students and volunteers over the past 10 years has resulted in these volunteers returning year after year, many supporting students as they move from grade to grade, and most volunteering to work with several students in the 1:1 setting.

Ten years ago Ruthie, a former kindergarten teacher, completed the Sarasota County Schools Partners in Education volunteer reading tutor training and began as a volunteer reading tutor at Emma E. Booker Elementary. So impressed with the program, Ruthie became an incredible recruiter of volunteer tutors specifically for the program there.

Since that time, Ruthie Maass has done everything possible to expand the school district volunteer reading tutor program at EEB and keep it alive. She ensures all volunteers are comfortable and understand their roles as reading tutors. Currently every kindergarten, first grade, and second grade student at EEB reads 1:1 with a volunteer reading tutor every week throughout the school year. It truly is amazing the number of students being served. The joy and caring that emanate from each reading pair (volunteer and student) is palpable and brings tears to the eyes of many who observe Ruthie’s team of volunteers as they work with their students.

Through her ongoing dedication to ensuring opportunities for the EEB students to develop literacy skills and to community members to make a positive difference, Ruthie serves as an inspiration to the volunteers in this program. As a result of her creativity and dedication, Ruthie makes implementing this program look easy, which is deceiving. The program has grown to such proportion that two other volunteers have joined with Ruthie to keep the program running and growing. Collaborating with the elementary school faculty, staff, and administration, Ruthie has helped to make this extra support program a part of the school culture, so much so that each year the kindergarten, the first grade, and the second grade teaching teams develop their schedules to ensure that each student in these grade levels can meet at least once a week with their volunteer reading tutor.

The tangible impact of Ruthie’s volunteer work is evident in many ways that go beyond the students’ test scores. One need only observe in the school Media Center to see the volunteers each paired with a student deeply engrossed in the book at hand. Smiles, laughter, and warmth abound.

Special thanks to Dr. Tanice Knopp, volunteer & partnership office in the department of communications & community relations at the Sarasota County School District for sharing this story. To learn more: 941.927.9000  x 31500;

The Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County’s Literacy Buddy program promotes reading and encourages use of language to help impact the 30-million word gap. The program had 185 volunteers in 2014 paired with 195 children in need of early literacy support, many of whom fall into the low-income ratio of 1 book per 300 children.

The Literacy Buddies corresponded with 3-year-old children about their interests and send three books to each child three times a year leading up to their Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten year. The program has volunteers of all ages, both individuals and those who do this as part of a group within a business or organization, and many are ‘snowbirds” who continue their commitment when they go back home.

Preschool teachers read each child’s book within the classroom, expanding on themes from each. The books then go home with the children who also share the stories with their parents. Parents often send pictures of them reading the story together — thus linking the preschool activities and home life. We want to thank and acknowledge all of our volunteers for their generosity throughout the year. Early literacy and development of skills for reading are crucial for children to be ready to succeed in school and in life.

To learn more, contact Janet Kahn, Early Learning Coalition:; 941.954.4830 x1

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