January is National Mentoring Month, and it’s a special time to recognize the power of how mentoring relationships grow and improve education, personal development and well-being across our community.
United Way of Broward County undeniably celebrates the value of mentorships. Why? We know goals are so much more attainable when a mentor can help a person accomplish his or her vision. Mentoring unites people, enriches communities, creates socio-economic opportunities and lays the groundwork for better futures for young people.
According to MENTOR.org, research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects throughout a person’s entire life. For example, 92% of young people with a mentor are more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities, and 74% of adults who were mentored when young reported their mentors contributed significantly to their successes in life.
Being a mentor for children in elementary school is a powerful way to make a difference. Did you know that 47% of Florida students cannot read at a minimally proficient level by the end of third grade? Our United Way’s ReadingPals program connects mentors/volunteers to students from pre-k through third grade by reading to a child for one hour per week for 25 weeks.
Through ReadingPals, we are:
- building meaningful, impactful relationships between students and our mentors/volunteers
- helping students develop strong social-emotional foundations through self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making
- improving students’ understanding of the fundamental building blocks of early literacy
- creating a life-long love of reading among early elementary students
One of our ReadingPals mentors who has been making an impact is Richard Kaufman — a volunteer at Flamingo Elementary in Davie.
Q: How did you learn about ReadingPals?
Richard: My wife had seen an article in the Sun-Sentinel featuring a program provided by United Way of Broward County to help children improve their literacy and proficiency with reading. We both were inspired by the article, I applied and I got accepted as a ReadingPals mentor.
Q: Why motivated you to become a mentor in early education?
Richard: I always have had a substantial interest in promoting reading, either by helping adults overcome illiteracy or by supporting opportunities to children with their education. For me, reading and nutrition are the two primary keys to opening the doors to opportunities for children and enabling a child to reach his or her fullest potential. As children move into adolescence and then adulthood, they have better advantages because of their education. Reading is the core to everything, including healthcare, housing, employment and other essential needs.
Q: When did you get started with ReadingPals, and what has been your experience so far?
Richard: I now am in my fourth year, as a ReadingPals mentor, and each year has been different. My first year was during COVID, and the session with my first-grade student were conducted online. It was not ideal, but the technology was excellent. She could pick which book she wanted to read, and I could turn the pages, and I certainly saw improvement despite the limitations. The second year was with another first grader. I could meet with her, but we both had to wear masks, which inhibited my ability to hear her enunciation. Still we made remarkable progress. My third year was another first grader. It was in-person and maskless, which was a major improvement, and we were making strides within one hour. My student had very limited reading abilities and appeared to be far behind where she needed to be, but by the end of the year, she was earning 100s on many of her tests across all subjects. This year I have a second grader, and his headway with reading comprehension has been dramatically good.
Q: What have been one or two memorable experiences for you as a ReadingPals mentor?
Richard: For me, the experience that has stood out the most was with the first grader last year. When we began, she could not read the words “the” or “and.” I consider these the two most essential words to learn because one or both words tend are used in nearly every sentence. Her mother did not speak English, her father did not live at home and she has a younger sibling, so there was little or no opportunity to reinforce at home what she was learning at school or through ReadingPals.
By using sight cards provided by ReadingPals, she made staggering improvement. She began getting 100s on her spelling tests, and she finished the year with her reading entire paragraphs by herself. She even asked me to accompany her to the school’s book fair to help her pick out a book.
Also, seeing the happiness and sense of accomplishment in all the students’ faces when they get to write their name in the book that they just read, knowing that they finished the book and that they get to take it home. You see the pride when they show it to their friends and classmates.
Q: What has made being a ReadingPals mentor so fulfilling for you?
Richard: I have been involved in many organizations over the years, some of which includes getting candidates elected or getting petitions signed. Few of these experiences have allowed me to see the tangible impact that I am having on an individual’s life — but ReadingPals certainly has.
Was I responsible for a specific piece of legislation getting passed? Very difficult to say. However, did I help young students improve their grades, thus enabling new opportunities for their future? Yes, I believe I did.
Q: What messages do you have for other people who are thinking about becoming a ReadingPals mentor?
Richard: Definitely do it. It’s the best investment you can make in someone’s life, and the only cost is giving one hour per week. ReadingPals mentors have flexibility with their schedules and how they want to participate, whether virtually or in-person. It’s the most rewarding way to pay it forward.
You like Richard can change a child’s life. A ReadingPals mentor can choose the school where he or she would like to volunteer and what day of the week works best for his or her schedule. Plus, as a ReadingPals mentor, you receive training and ongoing support.
Once enrolled through United Way of Broward County, ReadingPals mentors are connected with a coordinator who will provide details about participating schools near you, available times, background screenings, trainings and curriculum.
Click here to get started or learn more about becoming ReadingPals volunteer — and by becoming a ReadingPals mentor, you too can change the life of an individual forever!
Click below to watch a video of ReadingPals volunteers discussing why they love being volunteers.