PIQUA — When Jozan Harmon met two young girls at the Bethany Center, where her mother volunteers, she noticed they were struggling to read. It was that sight that gave her a light bulb moment.
“I offered to teach them to read,” Harmon said. “And I thought, ‘I know there’s more kids in Piqua who are having reading problems, so if I get a program going, maybe I can help them.”
And thus, Free to Read was born.
Run by volunteers and funded out of pocket, the program targets children in grades K-3 who are non-readers or having trouble with reading. The goal is to give youngsters the confidence, self-respect and skills they need to become lifelong readers.
“A lot of the kids just need more time with books; some parents can’t do it or don’t, for whatever reason,” said Harmon, who also does private tutoring. “We try to give them as much one-on-one as we can. So far, the kids have been very receptive. They love it.”
Harmon said Free to Read strives to work hand-in-hand with the state’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, a program to identify and provide guidance, tools and resources for students in kindergarten through grade 3 who are behind grade level in reading.
“If a child is behind in reading, they don’t pass into fourth grade, so we’re really trying to help with that,” she said.
Harmon receives assistance with Free to Read from Springcreek Primary School staffers Leah Baumhauer, who teaches first grade, and Allison Nickolai, an aide.
Not just a summer program, but one that takes place throughout the year, Free to Read takes place 4-6 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays in the Reading Room at the Bethany Center, 339 South St.
Nine students are enrolled in the program and Harmon said there’s room for a few more. During their two hours there, the children receive tutoring as well as have volunteers come in and read to them — “which they love,” Harmon noted — work with mentors to read together, and do word work, which involves cutting and pasting.
“This helps them use their motor skills with words instead of just looking at the words on the page,” Harmon explained.
Free to Read also has benefitted from the kindness of the Piqua Optimists, who noticed that the program participants needed some relief from the summer swelter. With that in mind, they contacted Morris Heating Cooling Comfort Systems in Piqua, and free of charge, the company donated and installed an air conditioner at the center.
The Optimists also have bought and donated books for the program, as well as offered printing services. Other groups, businesses and individuals are more than welcome to donate books or other items and services. The greatest need is beginning reader books that contain pictures and short sentences.
If you would like to donate to Free to Read or get your child involved with the program, contact Harmon at (937) 601-2454.
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341.