In The Community

Corporate Advisory Council Launched

Engaging the community has been the bedrock to our success. That is why we are pleased to announce the formation of a Corporate Advisory Council to advance and accelerate our mission. The purpose of the Advisory Council is to work with the Foundation to provide thought leadership on the execution of strategies in our strategic plan, provide expertise to advance, accelerate, and build capacity for key programs through innovative solutions, promising or proven practices, and a leveraged network of known available resources; and advocate the literacy mission and positively promote the Foundation’s public standing.

We are deeply grateful that leaders from the following companies have made a two-year commitment to lend their time and talent to our important cause: AT&T, Cheniere Energy, Comcast, Deloitte, Entercom, HCA Healthcare West Houston, Houston Astros, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Marathon Oil, PNC, PwC, Reliant, StalwartMC, Stavis & Cohen Financial Services and Stewart.

Read Houston Read

IMG_5509 By Lauren Goodwin

Reading has always been a big part of Jayne Olthuis’ life, librarian at Memorial Elementary. She coordinates and manages the Read Houston Read program at her school and says she loves the experience. Memorial Elementary has a great after-school program from 3pm-6pm and is a way for students to do activities with fellow classmates while they wait for their parents. Ms. Olthuis had the great idea of conducting Read Houston Read during this time as the kids are already at school and it gives volunteers a reason to leave work a little earlier once a week.

The volunteers love coming here and taking a break from their busy work schedule. The kids love it too. They are so happy to be in the classroom with volunteers, most they’ve known since the beginning of the school year. The Read Houston Read program isn’t simply sitting and reading to a child or having them read to you, it involves a bond that takes place and a friendship that develops. “It’s not just tutoring, it’s more like mentoring, what these volunteers do with these kids, they are helping them succeed,” Ms. Olthuis shares.

Katie Meeks is a volunteer from Deloitte who makes a short trip every week to be with her little partner for an hour, taking time from her 17 month old baby. “I wanted to volunteer for a literacy-based organization, and this just fit,” she says. Before working for Deloitte as a tax manager, Katie had worked with kids in social work, reading bedtime stories to children at Helping Hand Home, an organization helping abused, neglected, and abandoned children. What Katie loves about the program is working with kids, which she has a passion for, but also the effect it has on them. They learn and grow each time she makes the visit.

Another volunteer I was able to speak with was Peg Patrick, the upper class librarian at St. John’s School. Peg loves her students and the faculty at her school, but comes to Memorial to tutor and mentor a child in need. Ms. Olthuis emphatically praises Ms. Patrick for structurally tutoring the children she’s assigned to. She worked with a rather difficult child last school year that didn’t like to pay attention, but Ms. Patrick says she worked with him diligently and even wanted to tutor him over the summer for free. However, sadly, he and his family moved away and she didn’t get a chance to. We hope he is doing much better after tutoring with Ms. Patrick.

We all work and have lives to lead, but it’s easy to take an hour just once a week to tutor and mentor a child who needs it. There are a lot of schools in the city that participate in Read Houston Read and are looking for quality people to help out. The term, “It takes a village”, has never been truer. It takes a village to raise a child and a community to teach them to read.

If you’d like to find out more about Read Houston Read, which you should, please visit Connect4Literacy.org and register as a volunteer.

Patricia

Patricia Patricia is the director of a local childcare facility and is very hands on in the development of the curriculum at her site.  "We start reading with our babies at 6 weeks of age." She says "Then we build on that as they grow.”  At 2 years of age they are introduced to our curriculum and we read books aloud during circle time, at 3 years old they start matching, recognizing environmental print and using letter walls, at 4 years old we work on sight words and handwriting, we also offer our own private Kindergarten”

She is very passionate about the work that they are doing inside of her program but shares that her children come from all walks of life.  “We have some parents who fill out applications with misspelled words and poor grammar” “The parents have to participate” she stresses. She went on to explain how some parents are uncomfortable participating because they are struggling readers themselves. “When the schools changed their curriculum requirements it all started to fall apart.  I had to teach my own children how to write in cursive because they no longer teach it in the schools”

She focused in on how important it is for parents to read with their children, even while pregnant. Patricia recommends that parents “start as early as you can.” “Let your children read whatever inspires them.” Speaking of which her own children, ages 13 and 8, are currently reading tween book series and “everything Lego”

Patti Gillies

IMG_3460 Patti retired after teaching 26 years in Alief Independent School District. Most of her teaching career was spent with kindergarteners. “What was exciting to me was watching their eyes light up when they learned how to read something new or when I read to them. They would be so mesmerized by the story. That was the best part.”

“Many of the students were bilingual and their parents worked during the day in hourly wage jobs. This made it challenging for parents to find time to work with their children. One of the things I did was change the day that homework was due from Friday to Monday. It was amazing the difference in the quality of work that was submitted with this small difference.”

The majority of kids who entered her kindergarten class each year were really not prepared. “The biggest difference was whether or not they had gone to preschool. Those children were a lot more prepared than the children who did not attend kindergarten. I normally had 22 kids in each of my classes. It was really tough meeting the needs of each group of children and their level.”

As a community, Patti believes that we could help more children be better prepared for kindergarten by helping more parents understand the importance of reading to their children and by providing them with books and writing tools. “Read to them. Talk with them. Even if they can’t understand the words, they can look at the pictures and point out the things that they see.”

Gabriela

GabrielaBlog People come to America from all across the world to lead a life of opportunity. For many, it’s not so clear they will ever experience this. By age 3, kids in poverty have heard “30 million fewer words” than their middle and upper-income peers, which means they are already behind when starting school. For Gabriela, a pre-kindergarten teacher, many of her students come from immigrant families – she is all too familiar with how important it is for parents to engage their children at home.

“Parents don’t take the time to read to [their kids] because they are too busy, and give them an iPad so they’re not being read to and not hearing words,” she said. “So I think when the parents come in and ask, “Will my kid be reading by the end of pre-k?” I can’t help but say, “Some might, but some won’t.” Gabriela even further explains that a child being literate is much more than reading – it’s holding their pencil correctly when writing specific letters or refining their motor control. “To them, a letter is a symbol and then they put the sound of the letter to that symbol and they start recognizing the sound with the letter.”

Because Gabriela is originally from Guatemala she has a sense of understanding for the kids she teaches every day. “I didn’t speak English until the end of kindergarten, so I’m sympathetic towards kids who come in and have no idea what I’m saying. I was there – I was one of those kids,” she said. When Gabriela comes across a situation with one of her students who is struggling with literacy, she models her words with behavior to help the student comprehend. Furthermore, she is able to speak Spanish in addition to the English with the kids from immigrant families.

Gabriela is currently living in Houston with her daughter, and son who’s attending college in a nearby city. She enjoys spending time with her dogs, family and learning how to best help her students succeed.

Chaoyan Li 'Mimi'

mimi pic 2Chaoyan Li 'Mimi' was born in China and moved to Houston via Mexico. Mimi is fluent in Chinese, English and Spanish. She is the mother to an 8-month-old son, Ian. Mimi has already begun reading to her son every day, because she believes that it is very important for her son to learn how to read. She would like her son to learn three languages, just like herself, and is already speaking and reading to him in English and Spanish. "The most effective way to teach our kids to learn how to read and write is to send them to school. But, as a mother I am doing my work at home with my son as well. I like teaching him. We read books together. I enjoy taking him places to help teach him how to learn. As far as day care, I really look for a place that will love my son and give him all the care that he needs. Once he turns 18-months-old, I hope that they will provide him with early education with a good curriculum. I have already been doing a lot of research on what the best schools to send him to once he turns 2-years-old.”

Calvin

CalvinCalvin is an Adult Basic Education Learner for Literacy Advance in Houston. Calvin lost both of his legs to diabetes. He came to Literacy Advance by the complete "Act of God" to learn how to become literate. “When I first started [at Literacy Advance], I didn’t know my ABCs. I’ll be honest with you. I used to be afraid to talk about it,” said Calvin.

“I didn’t know my right from my left. I didn’t know my ‘m’ from a ‘w.’”

When referring to his tutor, Marc, at Literacy Advance, Calvin said, “I’m learning different things every day. I appreciate him being patient with me.”

Radha Helekar

Radha Helekar Radha Helekar served as Volunteer Management Youth Literacy VISTA with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation (BBHLF) as part of OneStar Foundation's statewide VISTA intermediary project.

“I began my AmeriCorps VISTA service term in August 2014, motivated primarily by the Foundation’s mission to mitigate the literacy crisis in my hometown of Houston,” said Radha.

Radha helped with site design, training partner organizations, recruiting volunteers, and connecting community groups with exciting service opportunities and activities.

“My fellow AmeriCorps VISTAs and I are working diligently everyday to fulfill the mission of BBHLF and be points of light in our city for others to follow.”