Service project encourages childhood reading

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Juiliana Mayer reads to a McLintock. (Kermit Constantine photo)

Jill Mayer of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Waterloo set a plan in motion recently to promote childhood reading in the community.

Mayer, who serves as St. Paul UCC director of children’s and youth ministries, applied for a Reading Changes Lives grant from the Deaconess Foundation.

The foundation is focused on the well-being of the St. Louis region.

After receiving a total of $1,480 from the foundation, Mayer formulated a reading service program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“I’m an avid reader, and I knew I wanted to propose something,” Mayer said. “And I just happened to stumble across this idea and ran with it.”

The program will include a total of five events in which children will read to animals at Helping Strays and senior citizens of both Oak Hill and Garden Place Senior Living. The first event occurred this past Saturday at Helping Strays.

“I think it went really well,” Mayer said. “I expected this one to work out really well. I mean, the kids get to spend time with animals.”

Mary Potts of Helping Strays coordinated the event with Mayer and said she was amazed at the peacefulness that swept over the animals.

“We had one dog that was a little nervous, and the kids sat down and they were calm, and he calmed right down,” she said.

Potts said the shelter has people come in from time to time to read to animals, which not only gives them some peace but also allows for people to come in and give them attention.

Additionally, the shelter can give its animals who haven’t been adopted some public exposure.

“A lot of times, (people at the reading events) will say, if I could, I would take these animals home,” Potts said.

Overall, Mayer estimated a total of nine children and nine adults read to the animals. The hope is that these events will show children they are able to serve others, as well as encourage them to practice their reading, Mayer said.

“They can begin to associate reading with fun,” Mayer said. “They can see that you don’t have to sit in a chair and read. You can actually share the experience with other people. It can be more fun.”

The children also drew pictures of the animals for the shelter to hang in the building. The project, Mayer said, will hopefully provide a different perspective on the animals looking for their forever homes.

“(People considering adoption) can see, you know, this is how the child saw the dog,” she said.

The remaining Reading Changes Lives dates include 10 a.m. Feb. 11 at Garden Place in Waterloo; 11 a.m. March 25 at Helping Strays; 10 a.m. April 22 at Oak Hill and 11 a.m. May 13 at Helping Strays.

For the next event, Mayer said she will plan another craft but hasn’t decided on what that is yet.

“I’d like to have something they can actually work on together,” she said. “I don’t want it to be something only the children would enjoy.”

For more information or to RSVP for an event, email jill@stpaulonline.org or call 939-7123. RSVPs should go out no later than the Wednesday before the event to allow for books to be purchased and to ensure there is enough space. The events are free and open to the public.

“It’s by no means limited to people in our church,” Mayer said.

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