Giving back through books

By on June 8, 2015

Reading Buddies’ book drive offers summer reading for local kids

You might say it was like Christmas shopping… in May. Our Reading Buddies made a list, checked it twice, and a shop of CPS Energy elves recently made the reading dreams of many second grade students come true.

This year, more than 2,600 new and lightly used books were donated by CPS Energy employees as part of our second annual book drive – almost three times more than last year. One hundred-plus volunteer Reading Buddies made a shopping list of their students’ favorite reading choices. Many of them filled backpacks according to those lists and delivered books to students with wishes of a summer full of reading and enlightenment.

The drive was spearheaded by Ann Martinez, an administrative assistant at CPS Energy’s Northwest Service District (NWSD). Not long after she took a job here three years ago, she got involved in the Reading Buddy Program. She quickly discovered the challenges that many inner city kids face – not having books and school supplies, and many being pulled from school because of their family’s financial troubles.

“I had a little boy named Alan. We got to talking and he said he didn’t have books at home to read. He and his sister slept in the kitchen,” remembers Martinez. “It really hit home with me – how little these kids have. It inspired me to do more.”

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In 2014, she organized the first book drive by asking everyone in the company she knew to help. She was surprised by the response – over 900 books, and donations to buy another 300, in just three weeks. This year, with a year of experience under her belt, she organized another drive with the help of her coworkers at the NWSD center.

“It didn’t take much convincing,” says Darrell Clifton, Martinez’s supervisor and director at NWSD, who allowed the service center to get involved. “Last year, Ann asked if she could organize the drive because many of the students come from low-income families and did not have any books at home to continue reading during the summer.  She told me how appreciative the kids were of the books and backpacks.”

“Since the drive was such a success last year, it was the right thing to do again this year. Ann and the other Reading Buddies are passionate when it comes to helping the students. I’m honored to have such a caring group.”

Reading Buddies dedicate time each week with their students at several inner-city elementary schools. Many are seeing the rewarding results of that time through the improved reading abilities of their students.

“This is about helping young kids,” says Nick Vidal of Overhead Distribution at NWSD, who recently handpicked books for his student from a mountain of books divided by category in a small conference room. “My student has improved a lot over the last eight weeks. He prefers books about spiders and animals. I found a bunch of books like National Geographic, “Big Bear Can,” and “Captain Underpants.”

Bebe Bermudez of NWSD says her student at Ridgeview Elementary prefers Disney books, especially those about Disney princesses. She believes reading and summertime practice is not only rewarding for the student but for their Reading Buddy as well.

“Kids need to keep busy during the summer and keep trying to improve their skills,” says Bermudez. “The joy you see on their faces is great. You can really get attached to these kids. I look forward to going every week. My student jumped five levels. She’s improved a lot.”

It’s a fact that students who read at or above their grade level by third grade have an 80 percent better chance of graduating from high school.

“According to San Antonio Youth Literacy (SAYL), the organization that administers the City’s Reading Buddy Program, many of the students mentored by these volunteers improve their reading skills two or more levels,” says Lori Johnson Leal, director of CPS Energy’s Corporate Responsibility program. “Our Reading Buddies make a big difference, as does the generosity of all the employees who supported the book drive.

“CPS Energy has been a partner with SAYL on the Reading Buddy Program since 2011. We have helped improve our students’ reading and comprehension skills. As a Reading Buddy myself, I can attest to the return our employees get on the time and attention they give these students. We know we are making a measurable difference in a child’s life.”

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