By, Elizabeth Crowley, New York Cares Program Manager
This weekend marked the 10th anniversary of our Read to Me project at Fordham Bedford Children’s Services’ Refuge House in the Bronx. Team Leader Tami Luhby has been leading the project since it began in 2001. Her connection to community goes back far longer—she grew up in the neighborhood adjacent to Refuge House and her husband, Ed Purce, grew up in Bedford Park and attended Our Lady of Refuge where many of the project’s students go to school. Tami’s initial motivation for Team Leading the project came from her interest in serving her home community: “The Bronx is often overlooked and it’s important for kids in the Bronx to have the exposure to books and libraries that other kids have.”
On Saturday, it was clear that Tami was not the only one who’d fallen in love with the Refuge House community. A number of other volunteers have been participating for years: Kerri Davidson since 2001; Wendy Waite since 2006; Angella Davis regularly since 2009; Nicole Serratore since 2002, and Nicole Stein hasn’t missed a day since she began in April 2010. Children and volunteers were happy, comfortable, and excited to be together despite the freezing cold Saturday morning.
We kicked off the morning with an ice breaker, where everyone shared what they enjoyed most about the project. Kids said things like, “I like to read and go to the library,” and volunteers commented that they “…like reading with children and seeing them grow over time”.
Jhanna, 10 years old, said the only time she got to go the library was with the Read to Me volunteers. Wendy, a seasoned volunteer, said she especially enjoyed seeing students who claimed not to like reading come around and eventually enjoy themselves—she surreptitiously pointed to Evelyn, 11 years old, sitting next to her, who’s been participating for four years and is now a strong reader and presence in the group.
The students were so engaged reading to volunteers that they didn’t even look up when food arrived. We read for an extra 15 minutes, and Tami only stopped the buzz of voices because the food was getting cold.
Refuge House’s Director of Programs Roxanna Chowdhry-Velasquez has been crucial to the success of the Read to Me project. “Read to Me is great because Tami creates a comfortable environment for the kids…reading becomes fun instead of a task.”
Her point really resonates with me. These kids would not necessarily have access to the library were it not for our dedicated volunteers and the tireless leadership of people like Tami and Roxanna. Saturday’s project was truly a celebration of reading, children, and everyone who has made this project possible over the past 10 years.