By: Karen Kelley, CDMSmith employee and dedicated Read to a Child volunteer for seven years
CDM Smith has been participating in Read to a Child’s lunchtime reading program for eight years through our CDM Smith Cares program. Read to a Child pairs volunteer reading mentors from the business world with elementary school students to promote reading and literacy skills. Mentors and students read together over the child’s lunchtime for an hour each week. This is a really great opportunity for our employees to make the time to volunteer in the community, even though we have highly committed schedules outside of work. It is also possible to “share” a student so that the time commitment is only twice a month.
As a water resources engineer and a seven-year volunteer with this program, I can tell you that it is sometimes difficult to get away for an hour at lunch, but it’s always a good break and provides lots of inspiration when returning to work in the afternoon. The kids love the one-on-one interaction with their mentors. One of my students, Jonathan, an immigrant from Haiti with a past full of trauma from the earthquake in his homeland, was at first very timid and shy. But by the end of his first year in the program, he would get so intensely involved in the books that he practically ended up sitting in my lap. Over the next two years, he developed a growing fascination with animals, especially dinosaurs, which he would draw for me with life-like expressions while we read together. Plant-eaters were generally smiling, while the carnivores were fierce. We talked about what he would “be” when he grew up, and he said he wanted to become an illustrator. I tried to introduce fiction, but Jonathan was uninterested. All he wanted to know was facts about animals. One day, he wanted to read about spiders, so we asked the librarian for help in locating a book on them, but we soon found they were “too scary,” and we went back to reading about dinosaurs.
Jonathan challenged me with his questions about extinction and dinosaur bones, no doubt trying to understand some of the recent events in his own tumultuous life. At the end of our third year together, despite starting the program with a very limited English vocabulary, he had come so far in building his reading skills that he could pronounce all of the dinosaur names for me, even the newly discovered ones that I had never heard of, and he could tell me all about their eating habits and physical characteristics. Some dinosaurs had feathers! When I presented him with a wrapped book at the end of the program in the spring, I was amused when he wondered out loud what it would be about. He clutched the book to his chest in happiness and immediately started reading when he discovered it was – what else? – a children’s illustrated encyclopedia of dinosaurs.
When I look back at our time together, I realize he taught me every bit as much as I taught him. Participating makes me feel great about being a CDM Smith employee.