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:

Colleen McDonald, Jackson County

I’ve been a SMART Volunteer since 1998, and it is my joy to help bring the love of reading and books to emerging readers. Whether it is seeing the big smile each time they see you, laughing together and enjoying funny and interesting stories, or ” breaking the ice” with a new reader by confiding that you are not “perfect” either, and have also been known to drool in your sleep 🙂 it brings me great joy and a feeling of giving something of myself to this new generation of readers!

Story from:

Pat Grady, Multnomah County

My first year of SMART volunteering has been so immediately rewarding. I was assigned to read with a very, very shy 2nd grader who actually was an excellent reader. She needed a boost in self-esteem, I suppose. After a few months of reading together with lots of space between us, I approached the school yard one day and saw her standing by the front door. With wide open arms, she smiled up at me, waiting for a hug. Still shy, that hug let me know we had a trusting friendship. I’ll remember her always.

Story from:

Beverly Winchester, Josephine County

I volunteered for several years and encouraged several others to do so. I have always enjoyed reading, first as a tiny child sitting on Dad’s lap and then on my own as I learned the magic of reading. A number of children in SMART had difficulty in their classrooms, but they were usually happy to read and look at books with me. I was sometimes the favorite SMART volunteer because I could sit in the beanbag chairs (and get up afterwards). Several years ago I needed to go back to work and am no longer available for SMART.

Story from:

Cathy Spencer, Yamhill County

I Love SMART! I have been doing SMART for over 10 years and plan to continue for as long as they will have me. When I started SMART, I was dealing with my young son and his learning disability. I have seen firsthand how reading or not being able to read, impacts a young child’s life. I like knowing that I can help other children feel good about themselves and be a success in school. SMART is a wonderful, positive program that,I feel, should be in ALL schools.

Story from:

Peggy Murphy, Multnomah County

I’ve read in SMART since 2002. I’ve had two kindergarten children who learned to read before the end of the year — boy, was that exciting! I’ve also had two 2nd grade boys who struggled with reading. One would only read the “Bob” books, which have 2-3 simple words on each page. By the end of the year, he could read words like “cooperated.” The other boy didn’t show much interest in reading until the last few weeks of SMART. I found a “junior spy” book and offered to read him the secret message in a crossword puzzle, but he insisted emphatically that he’d read it. His father sent me a thank you note that said he was reading the spy book to his little brother.

Story from:

E Nelson, Washington County

I have been a SMART volunteer for three years and will not give it up as long as my legs will get me to the school. I so love reading, so watching a child go from “I hope ya know you are reading to YOURSELF!” to actually hearing them read to you is thrilling. The fine teachers at school give them the basics but I hope I am helping to instill some of the love of books.
I have never been paid for my time like when a 2nd grade boy bolts out of the room and throws his arms around my waist. Or walking up to a classroom to see my student’s nose pressed to the window waiting for me.
Thank you SMART for filling MY heart. Hopefully I am giving a portion of the amount I am getting.

Story from:

Tawnya Ison, Jackson County

I rock. That’s what my first young SMART reader wrote on a drawing he gave me on our last day together. He drew a lovely picture of a rainbow with flowers everywhere and in huge letters he wrote “Thank you SMART reading buddy – you rock!” That drawing hangs on my wall at home so I can see it every day and remember that I do indeed “rock.” You see, I volunteered that year with SMART because I wasn’t feeling too great about myself and was told that if you are down just do something for someone else and you’ll find you feel much better about yourself and your life. I’m in my sixties, live alone with my cat, and never had children of my own, and so reading with elementary school children was a bit scary for me, but on day one these two wonderful little boys brought me out of my shell and somehow I miraculously seemed to draw them out, too. It was the best step I’ve taken in a long, long time, and I hope to continue taking steps through SMART for as long as I’m needed. After all, I rock!

Story from:

Laura Strickland, Multnomah County

I still remember every kid I read to over the years, and wonder where they are now. Sometimes it was tough to tear myself away from work for that half hour that was dedicated to SMART, but at the end of that half hour, I never failed to leave without a huge smile plastered on my face. Each and every one of those kids has a different story, a different reason for needing the SMART program, but they all benefit immensely from the program itself. To see their confidence in reading grow, is an amazing thing to behold. They begin the year a bit apprehensive when you pick them up at their classroom…very shy, and hesitant to open themselves up to mistakes. But then the magic happens. They start to become more vocal, wanting to read more challenging books, growing the list of words they know by sight, less hesitant to sound out words and more comfortable with making mistakes as they learn. By the end of the year, they’re bounding out of their classrooms when you show up, because they can hardly wait to read. They treasure the books they’re given by SMART and can hardly wait to show their parents. And to know that you’re helping them open up and entire world of literature that helps keep their imagination healthy, taking them to worlds that seemed out of reach… it’s a truly wonderful feeling. Sometimes reading becomes these kids’ only solace in their worlds. They feel great about themselves, and carry themselves with more confidence and joy. It’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold, and to know you helped them get there is priceless.

Story from:

Bonnie Hill, Multnomah County

I volunteered for 3 years. The most memorable was a 1st grade boy who pretended he knew how to read and he had some behavior problems. He was very smart as he would find clues from the pictures and prompting from the other reader. The “ah-ha” moment came and he became a fluid reader. I visited the school the next year and asked the 2nd grade teacher how he was doing. She said he was a great reader. I watched him as he sharpened his pencil, retrieved his assignments and finished his work full of confidence. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of him.

Story from:

Lee Ann Barth, Washington County

In my book, SMART is a win-win-win! A win for the student who gets extra “fun” reading time to build their skills (if a child can read, they can do anything); a win for me, the volunteer reader, who gets to discover fun new books and how to help a child improve reading skills; and a win for the school and community to have more children able to take those reading skills and apply them in other subjects. I think SMART provides such a valuable service, that I’ve told people I’d be willing to start a SMART program in an area that doesn’t have it. I’m happy to have been a SMART reader for the last two years and really enjoyed the three students with whom I’ve had the pleasure to read.