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United Way of Portage County Fires Up 3rd Summer Sizzle Reading Series

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Jason Blenker, part of the United Way Campaign Chair Family, reads to 1st graders at Washington Elementary
Jason Blenker, part of the United Way Campaign Chair Family, reads to 1st graders at Washington Elementary
Jenny Blenker, part of the United Way Campaign Chair Family, reads to Kindergarten students at Washington Elementary
Jenny Blenker, part of the United Way Campaign Chair Family, reads to Kindergarten students at Washington Elementary

The United Way of Portage County’s Learn for Life program, a grade school reading program that partners with Portage County school districts, local businesses and community members is holding public reading events, called the Summer Sizzle Reading Series to promote literacy and to grow public libraries from June 14 to Aug. 24.

Hundreds are expected to attend this event, which is open to the public.

“Families are often looking for things to do during the summer and ways to get their children interested in books,” Laura Pfeil, community services manager for the United Way of Portage County said. “The reading series are a fun morning activity that can show children of many ages the ways that literacy is fun and important.”

Pfeil serves as the master of ceremonies for the event and she worked with her intern, Kelly Skeels, to put the series together, but said the events would not be possible without the help of its sponsors and volunteers.

Sponsors of the event include The Mattison Family, H.O. Wolding, Heather Wynne/Associated Bank, Simplicity Credit Union, CoVantage Credit Union and Marten Machining.

In the past school year from 2016 to 2017, the program had over 100 substitute tutors, who volunteered at least once a week who were involved in the Summer Sizzle Reading Series. The program serviced 188 students.

Schools involved in this year’s event include 14 schools. They are Tomorrow River Elementary School, Almond-Bancroft Elementary School, Rosholt Elementary School, St. Bronislava Parish, St. Stephen Elementary School, as well as all nine Stevens Point public elementary schools.

At the Summer Sizzle Reading Series, sponsors read two books along with literacy activities for students up until 10-years-old.

Snacks will be also provided at the event and each child has the opportunity to choose a book that they get to keep.

“My favorite memories of the Summer Sizzle Reading Series events are when I see children pick out their book that they get to keep and immediately after choosing the book: sit down right where they are to read because they can’t wait,” Pfeil said. “It melts my heart.”

Pfeil said the Summer Reading Series events have had a great turnout throughout summer over the last two years and she said she’s eager as the next six are held.

Within the past years, over 80 percent of students in the program have either exceeded grade-level growth and/or are reading at or above grade-level by the end of the school year. The United Way of Portage County is still compiling data for the past year now that the past school year has ended.

“Receiving feedback from teachers, parents and seeing the growth in students from the Learn for Life program, as well as the quantitative data, shows the program is important in our community,” Pfeil said. “The ability to read and comprehend what is being read is extremely important to future success. Knowing that exposing books to children can often have a large effect on their reading skills: Summer Sizzle Reading Series events help our community to prepare children to be readers.”

Pam Jewell, a United Way of Portage County campaign drive chair, echoes this statement.

“I believe we succeed when we elevate the next generation,” Jewell said. “It is our obligation to raise the most educated, self-sufficient and successful next generation.”

Jewell said reading to children is a wonderful tradition to pass on and every child deserves this opportunity.

“I read to my children until they could read it back to me,” Jewell said. “We did a ‘Chapter a Day’ when they were older. I now read to my grandchildren who love to pick their books out and have their favorites.”

The fact that an individual can make a difference in one child’s life, said Jewell, is the most gratifying aspect about the Summer Sizzle Reading Series.

“We all have memories of that one aunt, grandmother, neighbor, teacher or friend who stepped up and made a significant impact on our life—this could be the perfect opportunity to create that memory that lasts a lifetime,” Jewell said.

Jason Blenker, a United Way of Portage County campaign drive chair, said it is people in the community who make all the difference in these young children’s lives.

“I think it helps to have people other than the children’s parents or teachers out there promoting reading and exploring through books,” Blenker said. “Kids sometimes discount those that they see every day and when an outsider comes and shows them something new—they tend to perk their ears a little more.”

When children are exposed to this new knowledge, these new worlds and stories, Blenker said it can have a powerful impact on their life.

“Maybe they need to find a different subject that gets them engaged. I think too many were forced to read things that didn’t interest them—find a book about a subject that you are interested in makes all the difference in the world.”

Blenker said the most gratifying experience about getting involved with the series is engaging with children.

“They say some of the funniest things and it is truly amazing to see them develop and learn things,” Blenker said. “They are sponges awaiting a drink of water—if we can help by giving them a small sip—they will soak it up and seek more.”

To help contribute to the Summer Sizzle Reading Series: including volunteering, setting up and taking down at these events and becoming a tutor or substitute tutor for the 2017-2018 school year, please contact the United Way of Portage County at 715-341-6740 or visit their presence online at www.volunteersrock.org.



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