Buddies in reading find success at Chilliwack Library

Library 'reading buddy' program matches up eager young readers with community volunteers

Helen Yeomans and seven-year-old Brodie Mitchell are part of the Reading Buddies program at the Chilliwack Library.

Helen Yeomans and seven-year-old Brodie Mitchell are part of the Reading Buddies program at the Chilliwack Library.

When seven-year-old Brodie Mitchell goes back to class next week, he’ll have some amazing news to share with his teachers.

He can read.

There was no “one moment” that Brodie realized he could read. And like most new readers, he needs reminders to read words left to right, not right to left. And, of course, he needs help as new words come along.

But he can read.

And, oh, how he has learned to love it.

On a recent summer day, he arrived at the Chilliwack Library with Helen Yeomans to dive into the stacks and find some books to take home. He picked book after book, piling them high with Yeomans.

They were randomly paired up by the library for the Reading Buddy program last November — Brodie as a young, struggling reader, and Yeomans as the volunteer guide to unlocking literacy.

Brodie was just in Grade 1 then, and still trying to decipher the written word. Yeomans is a former editor, and a children’s book writer looking to understand how children learn to read. She admits she didn’t know whether she’d take to teaching a young child how to read.

“I didn’t think I’d have the patience,” she says, laughing.

But they were a perfect, instant match.

“We really hit it off,” Yeomans says. “We enjoy the reading. And he sets the agenda.”

They started out meeting once a week, for about an hour, as the program calls for. They choose their books, and sit down to read in one of the children’s area nooks, or in the quieter multi-purpose room.

“When we first met, Brodie asked me, ‘so how long does this go on?’” Yeomans says. “And I said, well, we go on as long as we like it to.”

As the months ticked by, Brodie turned from a struggling reader into a determined one. He told his Reading Buddy that he had a goal. He wanted to be reading by his seventh birthday.

They decided to up the stakes, and tackle the problem with the utmost seriousness. They created editors’ hats complete with their names on them, and bumped up their weekly visit to daily ones. They decided to meet five times a week.

Slowly but surely, Brodie began to understand the words on the page.

“I thought  it would be a lightbulb moment,” Yeomans says. “But it’s not dramatic.”

For Brodie, learning how to read has been a proud accomplishment.

“I got used to it,” he says. “And it was nice to get used to it. We just kept going.”

That don’t-give-up attitude is evident in Brodie, who wants other kids to know that reading is worth the effort. And he has some advice for them.

“They should learn by Helen!” he announces, with a wide, knowing smile.

“Oh, thank you, Brodie,” she says.

The two aren’t just reading buddies at the library now. Their random partnership has turned into a friendship, as Yeomans got to know Brodie’s parents and siblings. They’ve gone for picnics all together, and sometimes Brodie now visits Yeomans at home.

Brodie takes the books he chooses home to his parents, who read to him as well.

He’s gotten up to the Level 2 readers with a little help, and is enjoying the Goosebumps series. They’ve even looked outside the library for assistance in reading, with a program called Teach Your Monster to Read.

While many children tend to fall behind over the summer, Brodie has been going full steam ahead and feels confident to get back to the classroom and move onto Grade 2.

He has read 21 books in two months, with help from his reading buddy, and has his eye on the next 20 books or so. He also has big plans to be a firefighter one day, and is looking forward to the day he can become a volunteer himself.

The Reading Buddy program was introduced last fall in Chilliwack and Yarrow, and this fall will expand to include the Sardis Library. Program organizers are hoping to hear from more volunteers to help with the younger buddies. Last year, a few children were left waiting for want of volunteers.

Volunteers can be 15 and up, in Grade 10 through 12, or any age older. It’s a good opportunity for high school students to gain volunteer experience for graduation requirements and resume building, and just to get involved in the community. Volunteers must commit to at least one hour a week, and schedules are flexible. Volunteers must undergo a criminal record check, at no cost to them.

And the little buddies, who must be in Grades 1-4, are invited to come to any of the three libraries with their parents to fill out a form.

The goal of the program is to have the little buddies eventually graduate out of the program.

For Brodie, he has no plans to stop learning with Yeomans. And Yeomans has no plans to stop teaching him.

“It’s turned out to be a great success,” she says.