| By Caroline Drexler |
I began my career at Gale as a library sales consultant in February of 2000, moving to my current customer success manager role in 2016. Within my first two years at Gale, I heard about an organization working with students at the local elementary school since 1998 called the Hillside Mentor program. At the time Laurie Fundukian was heading up this program, she worked in the editorial department at Gale for over 17 years.
Typically, each fall the Hillside Mentor team reaches out to the school to determine the start date of the program—we solicit Gale folks to get volunteers. Normally, we get about 30 volunteers, but there is no limit due to the massive amount of kids requesting help. Usually, one or two students are assigned a mentor, for one hour every week. We meet with the student in the library or classroom and read to them while they eat lunch, while trying to encourage them to read to us. Some days, we play a game or talk but as a mentor, our job is to improve their skills by encouraging them to read.
When I joined the program I was assigned a student who was not only a poor reader, but also had many challenges at home. His name was Dylan, a kindergartner at Hillside Elementary, who was living with his grandparents. He was never read to as a child and dealt with the immense struggles of a missing father and drug addicted mother. I could tell he was a very curious child, but had issues focusing on a specific task.
I met with Dylan once a week for a year and, honestly, did not see much improvement in his reading. But each year he was allowed to join our mentor reading program, so each year I requested to read with him and we began building a relationship. For Dylan, the less changes in life, the better—I became a steady and stable influence for him. We read together each year until he was in 6th grade, when he moved to another middle school. I was sad to lose such a strong bond.
The following fall, I received a call from the counselor at Dylan’s new middle school asking me if I would like to continue to read with him. She thoughtfully explained that it would be easier for him to get acclimated to the new school and make new friends if I was still able to meet with him. I was thrilled to support Dylan and met with him on my own each week until he went to high school. Once he reached high school, we, unfortunately, didn’t communicate, but I continued reading to other elementary children at Hillside
There are so many benefits to the program for the children, but honestly the mentors get just as much out of it as the kids. Sometimes it’s just a way for students to have a steady person in their life, or a way for them to express themselves and get attention they don’t get elsewhere, and, of course, many of them do need reading practice. For the mentors, it’s the feeling of making a difference that touches our hearts.
The very best part of being a reading mentor paid off when I received a phone call from Dylan just before he was going off to college. He wanted to meet for dinner to thank me for all the years we read together and to let me know he made it. That was the last time I met with Dylan, but I know in my heart he is going to do great things and will always have the wonderful world of books to enjoy!