The Buffalo News

If it truly takes a village to raise a child, then Read to Succeed Buffalo is more than doing its part.

This summer, Read to Succeed community outreach coordinator Deborah Porter has initiated the Family Literacy Program, which encourages children to actively engage in reading while incorporating their parents into the process by providing workshops that assist them in building a culture of literacy at home.

"I am very much into children's education," said Porter. "I am also very fortunate to work for an organization that has allowed me to present this as a model for the community."

The summerlong program, which operates out of the Martha Mitchell Community Center on Oakmont Avenue, serves more than a dozen children ages 3 to8 and their parents.

Every week, a group of dedicated volunteers made up mostly of current or retired teachers works closely with the children, reading stories and following up with creative activities related to lessons learned from the book.

"We're trying to plant the seed," said Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ferry District member of the Buffalo Board of Education, who became involved in the Family Literacy Program through the Buffalo Niagara Exchange Club. "We know our children can't succeed if they can't read."

The program participants are broken into five color-coded groups, and volunteers work with the same children every week. It's that sort of individualized attention, Porter said, that maximizes their learning experiences.

For Lindsay Brick, 24, a reading specialist who worked part of last year at Notre Dame Catholic Academy, it's all about the kids.

"I love reading, and I love kids," said Brick. "I am here because I want them to become better readers and to love reading as much as I do."

After a brief introduction to the day's lesson plan, parents head off into a separate room where experts provide useful information on topics like child care, special education, emergency preparedness and literacy.

"I think this provides a wonderful opportunity for us to work together," said Nicole Banks, whose two daughters, Theresa, 8, and Amina, 4, enjoy attending the program each week. "It's been very educational for me to learn the tools needed to make them better readers and to help them become successful in school."

Children leave each week with a free book on the condition that they read it before the next session. Since Porter has registered the children with Mayor Byron W. Brown's Summer Reading Challenge, the instructors work with them to write up brief summaries on the books they have read.

Brown is one of several special guest readers who have read to the children.

The Food Bank of Western New York has also partnered with Read to Succeed to provide lunch for the children.

While the goal is to involve parents in their child's education, Porter said often children come into the community center seeking the free lunch without their parents, so Read to Succeed just incorporates them into the day's activities with hopes that they will find a passion for reading, as well.

"We recognize that sometimes the parents are not going to be there to support their child," she said. "So as a community, we cannot exclude those children who want to learn."

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