Our Literacy Heroes: Celebrating 20 Years

All year long, we’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy. We’ve hosted birthday parties at nine public schools, and last spring, held our own grand celebration honoring tutor Mark Friedman (pictured with his tutee, Adam), an extraordinary leader in both GBJCL and JCRC. Last night, we wrapped up the festivities by honoring those at the heart of the program, our volunteers.

Joined by MA Rep. Denise Garlick (Needham, top right photo) and noted author Susan E. Goodman (bottom left photo), we were thrilled to welcome 85 of our literacy volunteers and school partners. Since the inception of the program, GBJCL volunteers have distinguished themselves as real literacy heroes. Every week of the school year – and in some cases, for the full 20 years of the program’s existence – these volunteers show up with teams from their synagogues or workplaces at public schools throughout Greater Boston, to help kids develop tools for success.

Among those we honored was Cindy Lutch, a team leader from Temple Israel, Natick, serving at the Hemenway School in Framingham (left photo, on right, with Pam Weil, a GBJCL team leader from Temple Emanuel, Newton). During her decade of service, Cindy has had the opportunity to work with dozens of students and partnered with multiple teachers to develop a nurturing learning environment. Among those she tutored, one young man in particular stood out. After spending many weeks together, she noticed he was having trouble reading his school work. She brought this to the attention of his teacher, and together, they discovered that the student needed glasses. After he got glasses, he sometimes needed help remembering to bring them to school. Cindy would remind him each week, supporting the student to become a better reader over the year. Cindy’s special relationship with this student and his teacher helped him to grow and thrive.

After years of tutoring, Cindy developed a model for providing closure to her students at the end of the year. Cindy takes a photo of the child and they each take a copy home. GBJCL values closure rituals between student and tutor so they can reflect on their accomplishments and express their feelings about the transition. Cindy’s innovation has now been integrated as a best practice that GBJCL recommends to all tutors. Cindy’s enduring her commitment led her to choose her successor carefully and since then, the Temple Israel team has expanded and become even more robust.

We thank Cindy for her leadership and her continued partnership with JCRC as the program grows. Her commitment to making literacy accessible to students is an inspiration to all of us and exemplifies the connection between Jewish communities and public schools that the founders of GBJCL, including Leonard Fein, envisioned.

As one of those founders, Hans Strauch (see photo), said last night: “GBJCL mobilizes the Jewish community to volunteer and help elementary school children discover the joy of reading and meet their learning goals. To see it flourish and grow is truly amazing and gratifying. GBJCL volunteers are making a tremendous positive difference every day in the life and welfare of the communities it serves. That is why we continue to support this vital program every year.”

Over the past 20 years, GBCJL has impacted nearly 10,000 students and our tutors have read over 36,000 books with these students in our public schools. This is a value of over $200,000 in volunteer hours. More than ever, it is important to continue championing our local schools, supporting the development of young people, and paving the way for them to access the opportunities our country has to offer. With the commitment of our exceptional volunteers and the support of our community, we can only imagine what we’ll be able to achieve in the next 20 years! (Volunteer pictured here at the event with a "We 'heart' our volunteers" bag filled with donated books to bring to her tutees.)

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy