“Today we’re having this first reading as part of the program, and we will be presenting each of the families with brand new books that were donated by funds from the Elks National Foundation impact grant,” said Ed Salazar, the Elk who spearheads the Books for Kids project.
Although story time lasted only about ten minutes, and the children already knew the stories, the pre-school and kindergarteners were delighted. They told the story along with Salazar, giggling and cheering the entire time and becoming involved in the action unfolding in their imagination by making “yummy sounds” as Salazar recounted the numerous delicacies that a hungry caterpillar devoured in the story.
After Salazar was finished reading the both Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a few children were chosen to ceremonially receive the books. The rest of the children would receive theirs later in the day.
But introducing kids to the delights of reading is only one part of the blossoming Books for Kids program. An unexpected opportunity that has come out of the project is the role of mentor that the Elks have taken towards the children.
“We spend about an hour doing games and puzzles with the kids,” said Salazar. “We work with the kids not only on letters but with pronunciations, enunciations and counting. We’ll spend a half hour with one or two kids, and then they go back to class and the teachers send another one. It’s a resource to help them further their education.”
Juan Gutierrez, the director of the Education Station is very pleased with the positive effect the Elks’ programs have had on the kids.
“These kids are with us everyday, so they get used to us,” Gutierrez said. “So to have someone come in from the outside and read to the kids gets them more interested. We’ve seen tremendous progress in the small group of kids that the Elks have worked with as far as their behavior and learning. These kids look forward to every day when they know their person is coming to spend time with them, to mentor them, to read to them.”
A touching part of the whole story is that this wonderful program came almost by accident.
“It was something that was offered to us, and we grabbed it,” said Penny Wiseman, former Exalted Ruler of the Elks Lodge.