Reading and Relationships

Kids may be counting down the days until school’s out for summer, but at JCRC, we’re still reveling in the successes of our students, volunteers, and partner schools that participated in our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) this year. We’re retelling the story of the first graders who excitedly shared pizza with their seventh grade Solomon Schechter Day School reading buddies and sent them off with joyful high-fives; we’re recounting the legal professionals who hosted their young friends in their the law library to show them how reading can translate into a career and can start to imagine futures full of exciting possibilities; and, we’re dreaming up ways to make the program even more robust and special next year as we mobilize the Jewish community to help elementary school children discover the joy of reading for the 20th year!

We’ve already come a long way – when GBJCL was launched, our tutoring teams were drawn primarily from synagogues, with day schools joining shortly thereafter. But after witnessing the profound impact of our volunteers on young emerging readers, we committed to expanding the program. As we often do, we turned to one of JCRC’s volunteer leaders, then-JCRC Board member Phil Rosenblatt. We asked Phil to make a shidduch (match) between GBJCL and his law firm Nutter, McClellan and Fish. Phil eagerly accepted our request and a partnership was born, creating opportunities for people in all departments of the firm to volunteer on a regular basis.

To this day, a dozen Nutter volunteers join with students in Grades K-3
from the Mason School in Roxbury for an estimated 200 hours a year, sharing books, tackling challenging school work, and building lasting bonds. A pilot school in the heart of the New Market Industrial Area, Mason is an intimate community, with a leadership that nutterreflects the diversity of its student body. Over three quarters of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, over 30% receive Special Education services and about 25% are English Language Learners. The Mason partnership with Nutter is cherished by students and faculty alike. Our liaison from Boston Public Schools tells us, “This is unlike anything else we have to offer students. The relationships the students develop with the volunteers are so significant; through them they have access to a set of models they don’t otherwise encounter. There is so much more work to be done but we couldn’t do any of it without partners like you!”

Alicia Lenci (photo below), an accounting specialist at Nutter, eagerly joined GBJCL as a volunteer five years ago. She is constantly crafting her own materials for her students, taking a special interest in learning about their unique backgrounds and learning needs. Though most volunteers serve bi-weekly (in alternating pairs so that each student has a consistent weekly session) Alicia volunteers weekly, going above and beyond her commitment to her students.

aliciaAsked to describe her experience Alicia said, The hard working and dedicated teachers at the Mason School are inspiring!  Pure joy is the best description. What fun it is to share my love of reading with beginner readers. As the school year moves along I love helping the student discover what really interests them.”

Through GBJCL and JCRC’s other service programs, we inspire our community to act on our core values, bridge differences, and build meaningful connections across communities. Animating our programs is an extraordinary cadre of volunteers who share a commitment and passion for building a stronger and more equitable community, one that affords access and opportunity for all. They delight in getting to know young children and helping them realize their potential as they discover the joy of reading. And the benefits clearly go both ways, as the children find a special place in the heart of our volunteers. If you have any doubt, just check out the expression on the faces of hard working professionals at Nutter, as they get a chance to step away from their desks and enter the lives of eager young learners!

So, as GBJCL concludes its 19th year, we’re as excited as the kids are for summer because that’s when we’ll be planning for our 20th anniversary year, when we further expand our pool of volunteers, and provide reading support to many more students in the many schools requesting our services. Maybe you, your business, your school or your synagogue are our next partners? I promise that if you are, you’ll have sweet memories of your impact on children’s lives too.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy