Reading Your Way to Success

Recently, I blogged about the Little Free Library that I put out in front of my house. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love seeing the books disappear. I love the positive feedback. I love knowing that people get as excited about reading as I do, and I really love making that possible for them.

The most unexpected thing about the whole experience is that I’ve been struggling to keep children’s books on the shelves. They vanish almost as quickly as I put them out there, and they rarely if ever come back. But to me, that’s good. Kids love to read books over and over and over again. The whole point of this library is to encourage reading, not for me to become the book police. It’s not about the inventory. It’s about the adventure.

Fortunately, I know how to ask for help when I’m struggling. I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church near me one Sunday, and during a period when people are allowed to make announcements, I mentioned my library and my need of children’s books.

The minute the service was over, I was approached by an elementary school teacher, and since then he has provided me with a huge box full of books, and he says there will be plenty more where that came from. Yay! Elementary classroom teachers, and their school libraries, are always rotating out their inventories. He’s now my children’s book source. He was even more enthusiastic about it when he realized my little library probably services students from his school, as we’re only about a mile and a half apart.

He and I are definitely on the same page about this: Reading is the most important skill a person can have. According to this article,

The benefits of leisure reading are enormous:

  • Readers do better in all subjects including science, math, history and civics

  • Provides higher verbal ability and better college readiness and success

  • School work is easier for readers–readers are more likely to stay in school

  • Stronger civic and cultural engagement including volunteering and voting

  • Leads to better workplace readiness and performance

  • Reading is a deep source of joy and curiosity

  • It increases our imagination, creativity, empathy and understanding

As Dana Gioia, former-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, put it a few years ago, “If I could only know one number about a kid at 18 that would predict how successful he’d be in life, it would be his reading proficiency.”

So I’m very grateful to have found this teacher, and I’m thrilled to assist him in his goal to help children experience the joy of reading.

He heard my plea and came to my aid, so it’s only fair that I spread the word about his plea as well. His school, and all elementary schools, need volunteers who are willing to listen to children read. That sort of thing may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but lending an encouraging ear to a child can do wonders for his or her self-esteem, and it can create enthusiasm for reading.

This kind of volunteerism can be tedious, but it’s so important. You have to be willing to make it a positive, enjoyable experience, not a pressure-inducing disciplinary tool. (This could be the perfect job for a lonely, yet sharp-minded senior!)

Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about it, and then reach out to a school near you. They sure could use your time, and the child involved would be getting the chance to read his or her way to success. What a gift!

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The Best Part of Philanthropy

Yesterday I talked about The Darker Side of Philanthropy, so today I thought I should discuss the good stuff. Fair’s fair.

As I wrote this post, a virtually endless stream of cyclists from Seattle’s annual Obliteride to obliterate cancer were rolling over my bridge in the rain. Many of them have committed to raise as much as $1000.00 to participate in this event, and as of my last viewing of the Obliteride website, they have raised 2.5 million dollars for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center so far. Good on them!

Obliteride
Obliteride, as seen from my drawbridge.

I happen to love the kind of philanthropy that stems from the larger community. I love microloan organizations such as Kiva.org. I love crowdfunding sites in general.

I also love supporting those organizations that promote the dignity of the people who will receive the assistance, such as Heifer International, which donates farm animals to people, teaches them how to raise and breed them, and encourages them to pass on these benefits to their neighbors.

I am particularly fond of those who may not have money to give, but who are generous with their time. Volunteers are awesome. People who donate blood or hair or kidneys or bone marrow are, too.

And I may be biased, but I’m crazy about people who build Little Free Libraries and keep them stocked for their community.

As a young adult, I once participated in a March of Dimes fundraiser in which I got people to pledge a penny for every mile I walked. I walked 12 miles for all those pennies, and couldn’t walk for days afterward. I admire that kind of effort a lot more than some rich person who throws a million dollars at a cause and doesn’t even feel its loss. The sacrifice and the commitment is the thing.

There really are a lot of people out there who want to do good. We are all in this together. That realization is why I haven’t lost all hope.

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The Kind of Little Old Lady that I Want to Be

A few weeks ago, I wrote The Geometry of Love, about a living demonstration of how all of us cross paths in random ways, and as we do, our influence widens. The demonstration has certainly had an impact on me in terms of how I view the world. But there was one detail I left out at the time, because it was a profound experience, and I needed time to digest it.

I didn’t participate in the experiment myself. I observed from the sidelines. But when they were asking for volunteers, I noticed an elderly couple sitting in front of me. Her arm shot up right away. She looked like she was in her late 80’s. She might have been 4’6” tall, and as fragile as a baby bird. Her husband grabbed her arm and tried to talk her out of it, because it involved spinning, and it was extremely obvious that this woman had balance issues. But no, she was anxious to get in there and participate. And so she did. He looked on with concern, but he didn’t stop her.

As she spun and wove amongst the other participants, she had a look of pure delight on her face. It made me smile. She was living her life, and having new experiences. But halfway through the demo, she came back to her seat and held her husband’s hand. She knew her limits.

I sat behind her and thought, “Wow. I want to be that woman in 30 years. I want to get in there and still try new things, even if it’s perhaps more of a challenge than I may be capable of meeting. I want to interact. I want to experience life. I want to go, and do, and see, and feel, and touch. I don’t want my advanced age to be my cage.”

But I also want someone to look out for me. I want him not to hold me back, but I want him to care, and I want him to be a safe place to return to when I realize I’ve gone as far as I can go. I want someone who will still hold my hand in my 80’s.

I’m proud to say that I’m pretty positive that I’ve found that man, dear reader, and I’m marrying him today. It just goes to show that it’s never too late to find your person. Wish me luck!

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