Reading Program for At-Risk Children Brings Joy

AARP photo for TRC
Reading Connection volunteer Lexi Jadoff shares a story with children.

Lexi Jadoff, 31, is a driven, ambitious Washington, D.C., consultant with a unique way of de-stressing. She volunteers with The Reading Connection (TRC), a nonprofit that promotes reading for at-risk families. Jadoff is among the Read-Aloud volunteers who read each week with children at shelters and affordable apartment complexes.

Four rotating teams read children’s books about a pre-selected topic to the kids once each week, then the kids do a related activity. “Breakfast” is this week’s theme.

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I arrive at the Ruby Tucker Family Center in Alexandria, Va., around 5:45 on a Wednesday evening. Jadoff sits in the front of the room, reading a New York Times story about international breakfasts from her iPad. Thirteen elementary-age kids listen in disbelief that a Japanese child may start the day eating green peppers, dried fish and carrots.

Next, Jadoff reads Pancakes, Pancakes!, a story about a little boy who gathers his own ingredients to make pancakes. Afterward, the kids settle down with the other volunteers who read them more breakfast-themed stories.

I sit on the floor next to 6-year-old Caleb and pick up the book Eat Up, Gemma . As I read, Caleb names fruits, colors and whatever else interests him on the book’s pages. Suddenly he stops. “Wap,” he insists. “Wap.” Bewildered, I ask Caleb what he means. He crawls into my lap and we continue reading.

Tonight’s theme-related activity is eating pancakes. As we finish the book, the room fills with the smell of warm pancakes. The kids rush to the table as volunteers serve pancakes and bowls of strawberries, bananas, blueberries and chocolate chips. Whipped cream is squirted onto the pancakes, forming a base for decorating as well as upping the yum factor significantly.

“Reading is a passion of mine,” Jadoff tells me. “The greatest tool that you can give someone is literacy because through reading you can learn any other skill.”

After 3½ years as a TRC volunteer, Jadoff still looks forward to her biweekly one-hour commitment. “I come here and everything melts away,” she says. “I’ve also learned how easy it is to provide joy to someone else. It takes very little. It reminds me of what a difference you can make in someone else’s life with such small effort.”

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The kids collect the pancake remnants and prepare to go home. Jadoff hugs them goodbye. “I always leave here feeling happier,” she says. “Always.”

Photo: Jane Hess Collins

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