Every third Wednesday of the month in Casa Grande, more than 400 K-3 students at schools across the city are treated to a special guest: a volunteer from the Mayor’s Reading Club who will spend part of class reading a favorite book to them. The program, which rotates volunteers, including the mayor himself, through classrooms thrills the city’s youngest students and attracts dozens of community members to help out each year.
‘Who doesn’t like reading to a child?” asked Caren Rausis, the program’s coordinator, who doubles as an executive secretary to Casa Grande Mayor Robert Jackson and the city manager’s office. “It’s such a joy to read to them – they listen and are delighted to see new people coming in to share a book each month.”
Research shows young children who are read to at an early age develop more of an interest in books and are more likely to acquire better reading skills than those who are not exposed to books or reading. Third-grade literacy rates are often used to determine how successful children will be later on in their educational careers.
“In the midst of my busy days, it sometimes feels like one more thing to do, but honestly, it’s the highlight of my week,” comments Mayor Jackson.
As local governments trim services citywide, the Mayor’s Reading Club stays intact because it relies heavily on approximately 60 unpaid volunteers, many of whom return each school year to participate. Rausis says those who take part vary in background and career, from Mayor Jackson to the chief of police to regular winter visitors to city employees to grandparents to members of the city council.
“The intent is to move readers around so the children are exposed to a variety of readers – they each have such different experiences to share with the classes,” said Rausis.
Volunteers can pick a favorite childhood story to read or work with the city library’s youth librarian in choosing an appropriate story. There are eleven schools participating in the Mayor’s Reading Club program, which include nine from the Casa Grande Elementary School District, one Catholic school and a local charter school. The program runs from September through April, taking a break during the winter holiday and summer season.
The City of Casa Grande accepts applications for Mayor’s Reading Club volunteers year-round. Click here to fill out the online application.