Working for 30 years at a major academic medical center provided me with a stimulating environment and a variety of responsibilities. However, during the last 5 years of my tenure there, the highlight of my week was leaving the office once a week with a big smile on my face, ready to work with Emily, who needed help with reading. I had begun to volunteer with Koreh LA, a literacy program of the Jewish Federation when Emily was in first grade. After a half-day of training, I embarked on a journey that has changed my life.
I read voraciously, mostly historical fiction but different genres as well. Reading soothes my soul, introduces me to other cultures, provides so many insights and brings me joy. Volunteering in an area I hold so dear adds to my motivation and fulfillment. I began this work with more passion than skills, but I researched literacy tools online to help Emily with reading as well as projects to reinforce her artistic talents. While we worked together, we shared stories about our lives, our interests, and eventually began going on “field trips”—often joined by my daughter, whom Emily adored. Over time, I began to evolve from a “tutor” to a “mentor.” Emily’s mother is a single parent of two children and I became part of their lives, developing a relationship with the whole family. I was often told how grateful they were, but I’m not sure they understand their impact on my life as well.
Emily made wonderful progress in reading. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was one of the few children selected to participate in a special program for good writers. She outgrew Koreh LA, which only serves elementary students, but Emily asked if I would work with her in middle school, and I agreed. So now, once a week I pick her up from school to help her with homework and “life.” We are planning to continue this journey until she goes to college.
As I reflected on how rewarding working with Emily has been, I began to explore the possibility of expanding my involvement in literacy programs. I’m now “retired” from my formal career — but work with two other Los Angeles organizations, “Reading Partners” and “Reading to Kids.” It is truly a blessing to be able to inspire children, especially youngsters who are disadvantaged, to enjoy and love reading.
Emily and I begin and end each session with a secret handshake, while saying “I love to read.” I’ll never forget the day when a very-young Emily said to me, that we would always continue to read together — and when I got older, she would come to my house and read to me. I believe that she will, and I will be beaming with pride and joy when she does.