Book Buddies Make a Difference in the Lives of Students One Book at a Time

The Book Buddies arrive at the Gillis Campus Day Treatment School library shortly before 1:00 p.m. every Monday with a book cart, a large tub of art supplies, and smiles all around as they prepare for an hour of reading, crafts, and fun with the kids.

“Our goal is to instill a love of reading and to help the kids catch up on their reading skills by associating good memories and feelings with reading,” said Becky Meschke, a longtime Book Buddies volunteer.

Depending on the week, the four to six women in the group spend their time with either the third and fourth graders or the younger kids in kindergarten, first, and second grades.

Today, Mr. Dalsing’s third and fourth-grade class gathers around Becky as she reads to them from a book called, “Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin.” The book invites readers to join the scientists as they take a trip in Alvin, two miles down to the bottom of the ocean. As Becky reads, she pauses to leave space for the kids to ask questions, comment, and get a close-up look at the elaborate illustrations.

Next, Linda Pysher, another longtime Book Buddies volunteer, introduces the craft activity, playfully themed around the book read by Becky. The kids are instructed to create their own submersible “portholes” on paper plates and imagine what they might see from inside the submersible. With help from the Book Buddies, they diligently cut out sparkly octopi and fish to glue on the plates and use scrunched-up colored tissue paper to resemble coral and clams.

“I love seeing their creativity shine while working on the post-story craft projects,” said Linda. “I think it’s wonderful how they can add a personal touch to make the project uniquely their own. They’re like little budding artists!”

For the remaining minutes, the Book Buddies typically split into smaller groups and read one-on-one with the kids. Overall, it’s a small amount of time in a child’s day at school, but the impact that the Book Buddies make on the lives of these school-aged kids is significant.

“It’s really important that they get one-on-one time with someone other than a teacher or a therapist, so they start building relationships with other adults that show compassion and empathy,” said Sally Cook, the Director of Development, who also oversees many of the volunteers.

Book Buddies was conceived at the Spofford Campus over 10 years ago. In its early days, the group was primarily focused on improving reading scores using computer applications. Since then, members have come and gone, and the format of Book Buddies has changed, but the group has remained flexible and able to adapt to whatever comes their way.

“Even during COVID, they made these storage boxes full of activities so that kids could still have fun things to do at home,” said Sally. “They’re superstars.”

The current group also volunteers at the Gift Gallery every winter and many financially support projects like the library at the Ozanam Campus. They all share a love for the kids and a sense of pride around the legacy that they have helped build at Cornerstones of Care.

“I continue to volunteer because I believe the program, even though it has evolved extensively, still impacts the students positively,” said Becky. “I love reading and enjoy sharing my love of reading with the kids. Hopefully, the hour they spend with us gives them a positive association with books and reading which they will keep forever.”