Reading Aloud to Children at Project Homeless Connect
Sound Outreach hosted Project Homeless Connect on October 25, 2017, in Tacoma, Washington, and provided services to over 1,000 people.
Reading Aloud recruited reading volunteers to read to young children in the childcare area at the event, nurturing future readership and literacy.
Image source: Facebook @homelessconnect
According to the annual point-in-time homeless count, between 1,300 and 1,700 people are homeless in Pierce County, Washington, and about fourteen percent of them are families with children. Homelessness, even when families are in shelters, can restrict literacy development. A 2010 examination of reading opportunities in shelters noted that a shelter's gender, age restrictions, and curfew rules can disrupt families and social engagement, creating barriers to family reading opportunities. As of 2008, 75% of homeless children read below grade level.
Image source: Facebook @homelessconnect
Our goal was to foster connections between children’s minds, literary development, and resources freely available in our community. We borrowed books from the local public library and allowed the children to choose from the titles.
Upon obtaining project approval from my instructor, I sought and received permission from the event organizer. I immediately began recruiting volunteers through my classroom course spaces and through a variety of social media outlets.
I used my library's website to construct a children's reading list that included literary award winners and titles mentioned in course readings. I placed approximately 50 titles on hold and checked them out the day before the event.
Eleven volunteers signed up, primarily using my online form. This form emailed me about each signup and I responded with a confirmation email to each volunteer.
I created a Google Map showing local public libraries and printed it on the back of a simple story log that volunteers could fill in and send home with children.
I emailed the full names and birthdates of my volunteers to the event organizer one week before the event so that she could perform background checks on the individuals who would be working with children.
Meanwhile one of my volunteers emailed me that she was going to create giveaway buttons with images of children's books and clever reading slogans, and another volunteer asked if she could bring her guitar!
The childcare area was staffed with members of Delta Sigma Theta, a community member, and my readers. The room had been filled with toys, and snacks and clothing giveaways were stationed in the corners. There were a couple of rugs on the concrete floor, a few conference chairs, several folding tables, and a bench-like cot.
Children were checked in throughout the event and given ID wristbands and nametags. Volunteers greeted the new arrivals and invited them to read or play. The children tended to prefer active play, but were nevertheless eager to choose books (whether or not they stuck around to be read to) and were transfixed by the guitar music.
A couple of volunteers brought children's books to give away. In the morning we handed them to the children as they left. In the afternoon we put them on the check-in table for adults and children to see and take. All books were claimed by the end of the day.
Over 1,000 people were served during the one-day, mid-week event
An estimated 15-20 children, ages 6 months through 8 years, were entertained with books, songs, interactive play, and attention
Resources were compiled into this website for use in future events
For Next Time
I look forward to participating in future events that support youth literacy in our community. As I plan for the next time...
Repeat these actions for success:
Recruit volunteers across many platforms--people want to help!
Use Google Forms again--it was easy for volunteers and for me to keep things organized
Welcome musicians--kids love music!
Send a reminder to volunteers--doing so prompts them to let us know if their plans have changed; it also allows us to communicate notes about programming and expectations
Room for improvement:
Contact the partner organization earlier and clarify all details well in advance
Consider partnering with other organizations so we can cross-promote resources
Hold a book drive, divide materials by target age groups, and give the books to the families; send remaining books to a shelter
At this particular event, attendees must register once doors open, so there are few children to care for in the first half hour
Determine what are giveaways (books, clothes, food) and if there are limits on what families may take; be sure that these are clearly separated from any items brought with children in care
Stay in contact with volunteers and nurture their generosity of resources and spirit, and inspire them to sustain their support for underserved communities
I can probably omit these ideas:
Library locations (the reverse side of the story logs) are of limited use; families in poverty have trouble with transportation to/from and getting there during open hours