Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reading and Hugs

My Friday started in its usual hectic way – phone calls, emails, meetings, planning for new opportunities, etc.

It ended with a bunch of hugs.

As a staff, we decided to participate in the “United We Serve, Together We Read” initiative supported by Arkansas First Lady Ginger Beebe, encouraging people to go to local schools and read to children.

As it got closer, I started to really stress out over which book I was going to read. Being an avid reader myself, I felt a need to pick something that might inspire the kids to become readers.

Maybe I was stressed because I still remembered having volunteers come to our classroom in elementary and middle schools reading to us. They read us everything from Miss Nelson to The Hobbit, and having those volunteers read to us opened up a world of literature and reading that I still cherish today.

My stress leads me on a search. I Googled “best books for children”, I went to Amazon and Barnes & Noble to see what the top children books were on the best seller lists, and I even went to the bookstore to see what small children were picking up in their section.

I was basically stalking the perfect book.

Finally, my searches lead me to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a book that I remembered from childhood – and never failed to make me hungry.

I brought it home and practiced, wanting to make sure that I was flawless in my delivery. Considered doing voices, and then abandoned that when I knew I would never pull it off.

In my job, I sometimes have the chance to do live interviews where hundreds of people are watching me through their TVs, or I give presentations to large groups of people in person. Nothing really rattles me any more, but reading to these kids gave me jumping beans in my stomach.

We got to the school and were led to the classrooms we were assigned. All the little kindergartners gathered around on a little carpet, and I sat in a wooden rocking chair.

I read. And when I was finished, they grabbed another book and gave it to me to read.

It wasn’t until that moment that I finally realized, it wasn’t about what I read, it was that I was there in the first place.

The thing that I will remember most about that day, is not all the nerves leading up to it, or my search for the perfect book, but this. As I was leaving, a little boy in the class came and tugged on my purse. I turned around, and he grabbed me for a hug. Then after that, all of the kids came to hug me.

I walked out with a huge smile on my face, and was reminded once again that we as volunteers always get more out of volunteering than those that we serve.

While I hope at least one child looks back and remembers the lady in the white LIVE UNITED shirt helped them discover a love of reading, I will be the one that never forgets the hugs.

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