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NIB Volunteers Launch Reading Program with Children at Local Community Center

by Catherine S. and Kelly J.

First reading service experience today (July 27, 2009) at the Charles Houston Recreation Center here in Alexandria. Arrived a bit early to a beautiful new community center that was spacious and inviting. Somewhat apprehensive as to the size of the group of 7-8 year olds-the larger the group the more chance of that certain restlessness that comes with a large group of kids in the summertime. Especially nervous when I saw that the center’s swimming pool was visible from our designated space in the reading room! All of my worries melted away however when the kids walked into the room.

I could feel their peaceful and inquisitive energy and knew we were on the right track when they seemed happy that Stephanie and I sat cross-legged on the floor with them for the storytelling. This was a great way to start the reading!

The group actually moved in closer to us as we began our introductions and we explained a bit about ourselves. They were quiet, attentive and excited by the choice of reading material. Stephanie explained how she would be reading a large print book and described her visual limitations.

We stopped after each page for interactive comments and even corrections in the reading of the material! These kids were avid readers and didn’t miss a beat! We critiqued the story after reading it. There were insights into the personality of the main character and also comments about his motivation.

Next, the Braille alphabet was explained as Braille explanation cards were distributed. Types of visual impairments were briefly explained as the children held up the vision simulator cards. Everyone participated! The group was still asking questions and were reticent to leave us. I felt like staying longer myself and was especially moved when one young girl who had been sitting next to me sweetly asked me if I would come back and teach an art class. How could I refuse?

Next time, we will brush up on our fact sheets concerning the history of Braille and Helen Keller. Many of the children seemed interested in the process of Braille. Others knew of Helen Keller and knowing details of her life story would have added spice to the conversations.

I feel grateful to have been able to participate in the United We Serve initiative and richer for the experience of being with a curious and bright group of children. There was a sense of fun, and isn’t that the way to keep our interest going in any endeavor? Children bring this to our lives and they become the teachers and we the students.

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The week of July 27 was “Education Week” for United We Serve. Throughout the week, numerous volunteers from National Industries for the Blind’s headquarters office visited the local Charles Houston Community Center in Alexandria, Virginia, to read with the children and teach them about what it is like to be a person who is blind or visually impaired.

The new reading program was introduced to help improve literacy levels of elementary age children during the summer months. Several NIB employees, both blind and sighted, volunteered about an hour each day this week to read to more than 100 children, ages 5-12.

As the community center has faced budget cuts, NIB plans to continue volunteering by organizing regular reading and tutoring sessions throughout the summer and during the school year. The initial efforts have already inspired young people to provide service to others. Two 11-year-old girls from the community center approached Connie W. and Derrick D. at the end of their reading session hoping to get advice about where they could read to younger children, too.

The United We Serve campaign runs through the National Day of Remembrance and Service on September 11, but is intended to inspire a focused effort on community service as a way of life for all Americans. NIB’s initiatives will grow alongside this movement and continue to aid in educating and providing community service.

To read more first-hand accounts from volunteers, visit NIB’s Blog: http://www.nib-abilityone.blogspot.com/.

Click here to read more Education stories.

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