LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Once a month, Laura Ira volunteers her time to read books to children at Head Start in La Crosse.
"It is just so much fun," said Ira. "It's so gratifying to see these children react to you and the book and, like I said, the last time I read I didn't think I was ever going to get out of there because they kept coming for their hugs. And when they start calling you by name, you know you've made an impression on them."
Ira is one of seventeen volunteer readers in La Crosse County for Wisconsin Bookworms, a program designed to improve early literacy in children from limited income families. This is done by providing free books to children who otherwise may not have them and giving them the experience of being read to.
"We really want to instill the love of reading and enjoyment," said Jeanne Flynn, member of the La Crosse Association for Home and Community Education and fundraiser for the Bookworms program. "So that these children are better prepared for school, because reading, literacy is so critical to their success."
After reading to a class, volunteers present each child with their own copy of the book to take home. This adds excitement to the reading experience and gives children the opportunity to bring the learning home with them.
"The reading experience is pure joy," said Ira. "It's so fun to interact with these kids and see them get so excited about the books. This is a thrill, I think, for them to get a new book every month and take it home and share it with their parents and their siblings."
But the children aren't the only ones who look forward to the monthly book reading. For Ira, the experience resonates on a personal level.
"It makes me feel like I've really done something good with my life," said Ira.
She's not the only one, either.
"Over the years," said Kathy Larson Lysaker, teacher at Head Start, "I have seen so many of the children that just love the ladies that come in and read to us. And they do look forward to it. But lastly, the readers themselves, you can tell that it's just a joyful experience for them. And I've had many of the readers tell me that this is the best part of their entire month."
According to the Wisconsin Bookworms handbook, around 50,000 books are given to children from limited income families each year.
Children receive eight books during the school year as part of the Bookworms program. To cover the cost of free books to the 299 students enrolled in Head Start in La Crosse County, Flynn said volunteers have to raise nearly $7,000 each year.
Books for the Wisconsin Bookworms Program are selected through input by a number of organizations including the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Family Living Programs, Wisconsin Public Television, and the Wisconsin Association for Home and Community Education.
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