As part of SMART’s 20th anniversary efforts in 2011-2012, we launched a story collection campaign to invite individuals – volunteers, educators, parents, former SMART students – to share about their experiences with SMART. We received a great response and gathered more than 100 fabulous stories about the many ways in which SMART is improving lives, big and small. Enjoy!

Story from:

Carl McConnell, Washington County

I’ve been a SMART volunteer for about 5 years now. One day I came in for my hour reading with 1st graders, and found “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” which was my favorite book when I was that age. The boy I read it with enjoyed it so much he took it home that day (which happened to be a book give-away day). I felt things had come full circle in some way.

Story from:

Roger Lais, Lane County

Every new school year I look forward to meeting with the children in the SMART program.  Not only do I enjoy reading with them, but I also like talking to each child and getting to know them as individuals.  I want to encourage every one of them to express themselves in the best way that they can.  I feel that if they can feel comfortable with their thoughts and words, they will become better listeners. Then, the idea of stories and books will make more sense to them as they begin to start reading for themselves.  Sharing thoughts, words, and  stories, with a book between a child and myself, is a very rewarding experience for both of us.  I feel we will both always appreciate this unique  and important time spent together.  I know it can make life better for us all.

Story from:

Lynda Knotts, Lane County

I am glad to say a few words about the SMART program. I think it’s a great program to be a part of. It’s easy, fun, and everyone is great – the leaders, the teachers, and the children. I can’t think of anything negative to say about the program. It’s amazing to see how the children change over the year, and how much most of them enjoy it. It is something so simple, but wonderful that the children get so much enjoyment out of it. I surely hope SMART will always continue.

Story from:

Takayoshi Ito, Washington County

“Not in a house.  Not with a mouse.”  A first grade boy was going through Dr. Seuss’s story “Green Eggs and Ham.”  He flipped the pages as if he had done this a number of times. “I do not like them Sam, I am.” I started to wonder why he was in the program, yet every few pages, I noticed he was uttering passages from different pages.  Even though I could see that he was saying passages from his memory, I was impressed by his desire to read.  The SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program provides an environment that gives children the consistent support they need to learn how to read.

During my ten years as a SMART volunteer, other members of my family have also become involved as volunteers. First, my daughter decided to be a SMART volunteer at an elementary school near her college. Soon, my father-in-law followed. Finally, when a SMART program started at a nearby elementary school, my wife also joined the program. The SMART experience can be contagious.

When the program ends in May each year, I feel a relief as well as a wish for the children. Was I able to help them change from a life long struggle with reading or help them succeed in their academic life? One day, by happenstance, I met a child two years after he was in the program at the same school. Recognizing how much progress he made since I worked with him, I wondered if I was a part of the support that helped him succeed.

Unlike with my job at Intel, one does not always see visible progress in children through the years.  It can be discouraging even when the teachers give us feedback that they see improvements in students’ reading abilities. On the other hand, there were magical moments when my SMART readers started to read books as if something clicked. Those are some of the moments that make me come back year after year to volunteer.

Story from:

Lois McGregor, Washington County

This will be my 12thyear at SMART. I am a retired teacher. I taught incorrections. Working with these children has been a really great thing for me to do. As I was reminiscing about all my years at SMART, it came to my attention that the kids I read with first will be seniors this year, which is a little bit crazy to think about.

I started at Aloha Park Elementary. My first few years as a reader were difficult because we did not have a place to read. We would meet in the hallway. It was very cramped. The children would see their brothers, sisters, and friends walk by, and they would get distracted. Our coordinator did a great job keeping everyone organized.

Whenever I return to the school to read the following year, I see the children I had read to in the past. I love when they recognize me and come and say hello.

In addition to working with wonderful children, I have also made a great friend who I met through this program. Last year, I finally got up enough nerve to ask one of the volunteers out to lunch. This started a wonderful friendship. We do lunch, go to movies, take stamping classes, and talk, talk, talk.

Rather than one specific story, I consider my experience as a SMART reader more of an “overall” thing. Throughout the years, I have had such a fabulous experience. I really think I get more out of it than the children do!

Happy 20th year to a super great program!

Story from:

Boyce Smith, Washington County

I have been a SMART Reader for twelve years now.  I started after retiring from work.  My wife had been reading in SMART for two years and thought it would be a good idea for me.  Over the years, I have seen firsthand how basic reading skills and the interest in reading are developed early in a child’s schooling.  And, I’ve seen how children who are not proficient by the end of second grade start losing their interest in reading and slow in building their reading skills.

Many children start school without having much of an introduction to reading from their families.  These are the kids we SMART readers are paired with during the kindergarten through 3rd grade years.  My best memories are when I’ve worked with a child and seen significant (“huge” is not an over statement) progress in their interest and reading skills by the end of the school year.  I intend to continue volunteering with SMART.  For the commitment of an hour a week, why would anyone who is available during the school day say “no”??

Story from:

Tyline Oldfield, Klamath County

I have been volunteering for smart for 15 years. A story that stands out in my mind is an experience with a little boy I read to when I was reading at Fairhaven. I sat down with him and began to read him a book. He continued to say he did not want to listen to it. He turned and faced the other way, and refused to participate.

Although he was facing the other direction, I continued to read. He would sneak a look over at the book, and then quickly look away. I kept reading, and he continued to sneak more and more peaks at the book. He didn’t want to get interested, but he did! It was a great thing to see.

I love reading to the children. As long as it stays enjoyable, I will continue to read. The kids have always been great. I just plain enjoy them!

Story from:

Kathy Knower, Crook County

The adventure of reading began for me as a child with weekly trips to the library with my father and my mother saying  “I think you’re ready for this book” as she presented me with A Wrinkle in Time.

Years later, in the fall of 1996, I was approached about being a program coordinator for SMART. It was then that I realized that SMART was a place that I could make a difference in the life of a child. As the program coordinator at Crooked River for 14 of the last 15 years, I have seen firsthand the difference the SMART program has made i the lives of many children.  Seeing the volunteers connect with their students, witnessing many of them go the extra mile to find ways to encourage and engage their students, and watching the relationships that are built throughout the year, are all rewards for me.

It has been encouraging to see the light go on as a child realizes he can read, and then to see children who have been in SMART go on to graduate from high school, finish college and become successful, contributing members of their communities. What a great return on the investment given by SMART volunteers!

Story from:

Eula Curtis, Deschutes County

This is my 21styear at SMART. I am 91, and these little bitty kids ask me “why is your neck so wrinkled”. I had to start wearing turtle necks! They are so honest! I love the children. They are all so sweet and adorable.

I remember is time I was first introduced to my little girl. She was told I would be her reader. She looked up at me and said, “I don’t like old ladies”. Her elementary teachers said that the little girl had just lost her grandmother. I guess she figured that all old ladies leave.

Another thing about the SMART program I remember happened 2 years ago. A a beautiful young lady came to our SMART room. She introduced herself to me and said I had been her SMART reader when she was in 1st grade. She was now out of college. I was so pleased. It made my day.

I love volunteering for SMART very much, I really do. I am going to do it as long as I can waddle down the hall!

Story from:

Alan Grinnell, Multnomah County

I have been volunteering for SMART for about 15 years. I think it is such a great program. I have encouraged other people, such as my co-workers, to become involved with SMART as well.  As a parent and grandparent, I know how important it is to read to children.

I remember a specific student I was assigned to. This young girl would hardly say a word. She would listen to me when I read, but she was very shy. It turns out, she was from the Philippines. She spoke English, but it was not her primary language.

In an effort to better connect with her, I went on a language website and tried to learn a few basic words of her native language. When I tried to tell her the words I had learned, she laughed at the way I pronounced them. She corrected me, and from that point on she started opening up. She could see that I was learning too, so we made a connection. That was a great experience.

Volunteering for SMART benefits the volunteers as well as the students. It can help volunteers to see what a wonderful job many of our public schools are doing; something they might not get out of the media.

I love to see the children blossom over time. Every child I read with is unique in his or her own way, and has been a lot of fun. Some are more challenging than others, but overall, I love the experience.