Think back to your favorite books as a child. Did you parents read them to you over and over? How many hours were devoted to Dr. Seuss or Mother Goose?
Studies show that the average middle-class child is read to for more than 1,000 hours before kindergarten. For children in lower-income households, that number is 25.
It’s a startling statistic, considering how important literacy is to both education and life after. Other research has found that children who are reading at grade level by third grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to attend college. Poor reading skills in elementary school have also been correlated with welfare status and time in prison.
This data got under the skin of several Central alumni and students, compelling them to join the staff of Everybody Wins! Iowa (EW!), a children’s literacy and mentoring organization. Its signature program is Power Read, which pairs adult mentors with low-literacy children for one hour of reading each week. Amanda Hansen Fletcher ’00 is the organization’s director. Melanie Hopkins ’12 is the volunteer coordinator; Michelle Blair ’12 is the program coordinator. Brent Goodenow ’12 is the finance intern, Nick Barnes ’14 is the web intern and Jacob Stevenson ’13 is the program coordinator intern.
As director, Fletcher hires and manages the staff, and she sees a difference in a Central degree. “I’ve worked with students from several other institutions,” she says. “There is a different quality, generally speaking, if I’m working with a student from somewhere else. Central students come off as more prepared. They seem to have a broader knowledge base, and they’re not so focused on one little aspect of work.”
Based at Walnut Street School in downtown Des Moines, the staff has the natural camaraderie of the Dutch. They swap stories from their on-campus days, and they have a commitment to both service and education.
“I love working with youth, and I love creating a better future for them,” says Stevenson, a senior sociology major who hopes to work at a nonprofit after graduation. The Central grads he sees at his internship prove to him that his dream is possible. Plus, they are a source of advice and networking contacts.
Fletcher has a host of nonprofit experience to draw on when faced with questions from interns; she has worked in fundraising at Mercy Medical Center, WesleyLife and Hope Ministries. She moved to EW! two years ago because the position allows her to put her expert knowledge to use. As the only full-time staff member (Blair and Hopkins are with AmeriCorps), Fletcher manages all the school coordinators at 19 sites around central Iowa.
Hopkins and Blair’s contributions have made a big difference as Fletcher continues to expand the organization. They added nine new locations this year and increased the total number of mentors from 300 to 500. By managing the volunteers and running the programs, the 2012 grads keep the reading going.
“A lot of the kids we serve don’t have books at home, or their parents don’t have the resources or time to read to them every night,” explains Blair, who majored in business management and sociology at Central. Hopkins adds: “We are putting caring adults into the lives of students who need an extra person in their life to model important values.”
Their commitment to caring has been aided by Central’s not-for-profit management minor, something that didn’t exist when Fletcher attended college. She believes the business program at Central is substantially strengthened by this addition. And she knows it has benefited EW!, too, since the Dutch are able to put their knowledge into practice as interns and employees.
“Central not only gave me the academic classes that I needed but also gave me the hands-on experience to prepare me for this job,” says Blair, who did her service-learning at EW! as part of her Writing for Non-Profit Organizations course senior year. That stint led to her current position.
Stevenson is also doing his service learning at EW! for the same class, in addition to his internship responsibilities. “I love that Central doesn’t picture a classroom as four walls,” he says. “They picture a classroom as the world. After I graduate from Central, I’m not going to stop learning.”
Everybody Wins! has that same philosophy: Learning can happen anywhere, and anyone can be a teacher. The Central Dutch are making that happen for hundreds of kids in Iowa.
Everybody Wins! Iowa is hosting their second annual Read to Lead Gala on Saturday, April 13 from 7-10 p.m. at the Salisbury House in Des Moines. The gala is an opportunity to meet local authors, including Jann Freed ’77, professor emerita of business management, who will be talking about her book, “Women of Yucatan: Thirty Who Dare to Change Their World.” Tickets cost $25. Prior registration is required.