Marcia Steffens shows off the spooky monsters in one of the books she read to a group of Justus Gage first-grade students Tuesday morning. She was one of many volunteers who visited local classrooms as part of the United Way’s Reading Day of Action.
Marcia Steffens shows off the spooky monsters in one of the books she read to a group of Justus Gage first-grade students Tuesday morning. She was one of many volunteers who visited local classrooms as part of the United Way’s Reading Day of Action. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Archived Story

United Way hosts fourth-annual Reading Day of Action

Published 8:00am Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Storytelling may be the oldest form of entertainment, but, as demonstrated by Marcia Steffens, it can still captivate the attention of even the most rambunctious children.

Steffens gave the students of Justus Gage Elementary a special visit Tuesday morning, stopping from classroom to classroom with a sack filled with books to read. Among the classrooms she visited was Melissa Lillie’s first-grade classroom where she read “The Golden Egg” by A.J. Wood.

As Steffens flipped through the lusciously illustrated pages of the book, the huddled children’s eyes began to fill with excitement. Whenever she opened up one of the book’s pop-up panels to reveal pictures of the vividly embroidered eggs, the students sitting near the front of the group would reach for the page to feel them.

Steffens was one of more than a hundred volunteers who read to children throughout Berrien and Cass County schools Tuesday as part of the United Way’s Reading Day of Action. The readers visited around 319 classrooms around the two counties, reaching around 9,500 kids, said Douglas Ferrall, organizer for the event.

“Volunteer turnout has been one of the highest we’ve ever had,” Ferrall said. “School turnout is a bit lower than last year, but that isn’t a surprise due to the winter. It’s still above the goal we set for this year.”

The United Way set up the program in 2011 to help promote reading among the community’s K-5 students, the age group where establishing a passion for reading is the most critical, Ferrall said.

“We’re trying to get the community excited about reading, about why it’s so important to our children’s education,” he said. “Early literacy is a critical component for success later in life.”

Volunteer readers representing more than 40 companies were given a list of children’s books to choose from, though they had the freedom to pick out books from their own collections as well, Ferrall said.

“We give the readers a lot of leeway for the books they can select,” Ferrall said. “If they are excited about reading a favorite book of theirs, the children will get more excited in turn.”

Some popular choices in the past include books by popular children authors like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss.

Ferrall himself volunteered to read to students last year, he said.

“It was awhile since I read to a group of kids,” Ferrall said. “It was great seeing how they get engaged with the story, guessing what will happen next before you turn the page.”

This year was the first time Steffens volunteered to read to Dowagiac children, deciding to help out after hearing about the reading day last year, she said.

“I thought it would be be a fun thing to do,” Steffens said. “It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

Sharing her love for reading with children is something Steffens has years of experience doing, she said. She read to her children while they were growing up, and currently reads to her 22-month-old granddaughter, Alexia.

“It’s her favorite thing in the world,” Steffens said. “She brings me books from the shelf to read whenever I visit.”

This year’s event was sponsored by Honor Credit Union.

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