Cooper-Siegel Community Library to host volunteer session to help children learn to read

Amy Ogren, a volunteer from O’Hara, celebrates the Reading is Fundamental program with Camille, a second-grader at Faison Elementary School.
Amy Ogren, a volunteer from O’Hara, celebrates the Reading is Fundamental program with Camille, a second-grader at Faison Elementary School.
Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

O'Hara resident Amy Ogren spends one lunch hour each week reading Dr. Seuss, “Amelia Bedelia” and “Rainbow Magic” books — not your typical adult fare.

“I get so much out of it,” said Ogren, adding the selections are made by her “mentee,” Camille, 8, a student at Pittsburgh Faison K-5, an elementary school where she will begin regular visits again in September.

Ogren volunteers through “Everybody Wins!” — an offshoot of the national Reading is Fundamental program that enlists local adults to spend an hour each week instilling a love of literacy in students at under-served schools.

“The title fits perfectly,” Ogren said. “To see her face light up when I come in the door, it is so rewarding.”

Cooper Siegel Community Library in Fox Chapel will host a volunteer session for the reading program from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 28.

Volunteer-recruitment coordinator JoEllen Leech said no expertise is needed, only the desire to make a difference in a student's life.

“You can make a big impact for a small commitment,” said Leech of Fox Chapel. “We want to inspire a loving of reading through conversation, good books and literacy-related activities.”

Leech said there are 16 reading volunteers from the Lower Valley, up from 10 in 2013.

Founded in 1966, Reading is Fundamental is a Washington, D.C.-based group that aims to provide a solid literacy foundation for children that inspires a lifelong love of reading. It gives particular attention to underprivileged children up to age 8.

The oldest literacy group in the country, it is seeking people to share with young students the possibilities found between the pages of a book.

The lunchtime mentoring program pairs second- and third-graders with an adult for one hour each week.

“The consistent, one-on-one experiences increase a child's opportunity for success, both academically and in life,” said Kate Porigow, director of programs at Reading is Fundamental Pittsburgh.

That branch was founded in 1981 by a North Side resident, Marirose Radelet, who often sat outside and read books to neighborhood children.

Today, the grass-roots group is one of the top five largest Reading is Fundamental programs in the nation and provides services to more than 20,000 students.

Porigow said nearly two-thirds of low-income families don't own books for their children.

She said the group addresses a critical need by providing children with self-selected books; it distributes more than 60,000 books each year.

“Every year, we hear from parents and teachers that students' reading interest and fluency increases,” Porigow said. “Parents often tell us that their children begin reading more at home and even start reading aloud to younger siblings.”

Leech said the commitment works well for people with tight schedules because the visits are brief and routine. Volunteers go to one of four Pittsburgh City Schools: King, Phillips, Weil or Faison.

Ogren said the students respond to the program's consistency.

“To have a person they can rely on showing up every week and give them individual attention, they seem to get real joy from it,” she said.

Camille, she said, was a decent reader to begin but grew more confident through the year.

“She became so expressive and would sing or dance the words on the page.”

Ogren said the students deserve credit for wanting to be part of the program, too.

“This is a volunteer program in terms of them giving up their recess,” she said. “They get so happy to read, play games and sometimes just talk.”

For more information about the volunteer session, call 412-828-9520.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or at

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