Come October – after the back-to-school rush and after the High Holy Days – more than 100 area residents will find themselves back in elementary school. They will be participating in Bergen Reads, which places reading volunteers in eight elementary schools in Hackensack and Teaneck.
Volunteers spend an hour each week, reading with two different students – generally in first or second grade, often from a home where English is not the native language.
Bergen Reads is beginning its 11th year. It is a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. It is part of a nationwide initiative, the National Jewish Coalition of Literacy, founded in 1997 “to bring the skills and the concerns of America’s Jews to bear on the scandal of illiteracy.”
What impresses us about Bergen Reads is not just the good work that the program and its volunteers do (although that is impressive.)
It is the difference the program makes in the lives of the volunteers.
“Being a reading buddy is not the same as being a formal teacher,” volunteer and program co-chair Sandy Alpern told The Jewish Standard. “The goal is to foster the love of reading. Both the kids and the volunteers get so much satisfaction. You make an attachment.”
We know some retirees who are long-time literacy volunteers. Ask them what they are up to, and they will start talking about their weekly reading sessions, about the thrill of getting to know a child and see his or her growth as a reader in the course of the year.
“People should volunteer because it is so satisfying, [particularly] if you love books and reading, and want to share that feeling with kids who have no one to do it with one-on-one,” said Alpern. “If you have lots of love and time, it’s a worthwhile volunteer opportunity and a good representation of the Jewish community doing outreach in the secular community. You’re doing something valuable.”
For information on volunteering, contact Beth Figman, Bergen Reads’ coordinator, at (201) 820-3947 or BethF@jfnnj.org.