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Wanted: Reading Pals To Make Books Come Alive

Allie George
Books and extra materials are available at a lending library located inside the Early Learning Coalition's office for Reading Pals to use.

With a new school year just weeks away, North Florida’s Reading Pals are seeking volunteers to help introduce the area’s youngest students to reading.

The program is run by the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida in collaboration with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. Reading Pals commit an hour a week to read children’s books to private and public preschool programs in the area.

Though preschool may seem a little young for most kids to be reading, Early Learning Coalition director Joan Whitson said early exposure to books is helpful.

“Just the basic skills of reading: that you read from left to right, top to bottom; that a book has an author, illustrator — those (are the) kinds of things that help them get ready to read when they get to kindergarten,” she said.

Although some readers do read to larger groups, Whitson added a small-group setting is provided to students to offer more one-on-one time with the books.

Cheryl Freeman is the Director of RSVP, which supplies some of the volunteers. She says the program is a great experience all around.

“One time I was in a setting where they had summer school reading, and I heard a student say, ‘Mr. Paul is reading with me today.’ And I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s what you want.’ You’ve got that intergenerational connection, and they’re wanting to read.”

The program provides training, books, and extra materials like puppets and games to those who work with the youngsters. Whitson adds that its not just about reading. Volunteers have shared photos from recent vacations or a new talent, like playing the cello, with the kids.

“It’s a chance for them to learn from another adult, somebody else who can be positive in their life, which some don’t have, so that’s, I guess I would say too it’s also giving of yourself.”

For any interested potential volunteers, the group is hosting a training for new Reading Pals on  from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 8 in the St. Augustine Record Building. Additional trainings will be held the following Sept. 15 at the same time inside suite 150 of the Work Source Building located at 1845 Town Center Blvd. in Orange Park.

For more information, email Joan Whitson at or Cheryl Freeman at