THERE’S NO question that reading is essential to childhood development. The Rotary Club of Savannah is doing its part to guide that development with its inaugural Rotary Read-In on March 22.
Community members and Rotarians alike will visit classrooms from kindergarten through third grade at public schools across the county. They’ll read a book to the class for an hour and leave the book with the class after they leave to stock the shelves.
Hospice Savannah CEO Debra Larson says the idea comes from her fellow co-sponsor, Frank Moore.
“Frank was a Rotarian in Stockton, California, for many years,” Larson shares. “Nina [Gompels], as president, sits down with all new incoming members and gets to know them. During that meeting, Frank shared with Nina this reading project that his club in Stockton has been doing for over 25 years. Every year our club likes to have a new project, and Nina really embraced the concept of having a one-day, one-hour, one-class, one-school read-in.”
Larson says the project has already outperformed their expectations.
“We were hoping for 300 to 450 [volunteers], and so far we have 560,” Larson says. “At first we said, ‘Well, with our first year, let’s start small and get a hundred readers for a hundred classrooms.’ It’s fairly conservative, but a good way to start. When we met with the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, they were very excited about it. They wanted to read to all the classes—500-some—and I went, ‘Oh my goodness gracious.’”
Larson recalls being intimidated by the thought of recruiting four hundred people to supplement the participating Rotarians, but she didn’t need to worry.
“It started slow, of course—this is Savannah. People don’t RSVP real quickly,” laughs Larson. “Ten days ago our numbers were very low, but the past ten days our numbers exploded.”
The community’s response to the Read-In has been more than Larson ever expected.
“I think that, first of all, the community appreciates the opportunity to go into the schools,” she explains. “We don’t always have that opportunity as community individuals or professionals to go into the schools and interact with the kids. Many times that can be restrictive to a group. I think Savannah is open to giving back.”
E Shaver Booksellers partnered with Rotary for the event, offering a 25 percent discount to anyone who participated in the Read-In.
Rotary as an organization around the world is dedicated to providing humanitarian service, encouraging high ethical standards, and building peace and goodwill.
“As Rotarians, we realize the importance of interacting with kids and fostering literacy,” Larson says. “Literacy is so important to being successful in any field you choose. I think this is the age group that you can make a difference with. You can really start young to encourage the importance of reading. They’re very inquisitive. ‘What do you do? Why did you choose this book?’ You never know if you have a child that goes home and says, ‘Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, we had a book read to us today in class by a businessperson. Will you read me a book tonight?’ That would be a really positive outcome.”
If the program is successful in its first go, Larson says the club might consider adding pre-K students to the read-in.
She’s particularly excited to see if the program can yield lifelong Read-In participants, as it did in Moore’s Stockton club.
“Frank told a story about his club where they had a new Rotarian that was apparently part of the Read-In program and he became a successful businessman and joined Rotary and now is reading to classes,” Larson says. “That was very meaningful for Frank that this Rotarian remembered the program. The kids [in Stockton] were upset that when they went into fourth grade, they didn’t get the Rotary Read-In. We look forward to bringing that tradition to Savannah. It has the potential of having that longevity.”