By Gaby Rattner, Barbara's House Executive Director
Travel is among my favorite things to do. The excitement of seeing new places and exploring new cultures is a joy for me like no other. When I was younger, though, I didn’t have the means to tour the world. Instead, I read.
Novels transported me to London, Paris, South America, Scotland, Los Angeles, ancient Greece. So etched in my mind were the places described in these books that when I was at last able to visit them in person, I felt as if I already knew their landmarks, their people, and their food.
My love of reading has never left me. And now, thanks to some of the programs we offer at Barbara's House, I’m able to help share that love with others who, like me, want to grow and explore even if they don’t have the opportunity to leave the place we call home.
Barbara's House does this through several initiatives. In one program, our elementary school students visit with senior citizens to read to them and be read to in return. Sometimes they expand on their readings by dramatizing them as mini plays.
The benefits are many, starting with the basics. Says Linda, one of our participating seniors, “It’s important to their success for the kids to be able to read. I look forward [each week] to coming and helping them improve their lives.” Much of that improvement stems from the bonds of friendship forged between the young and old, bonds that bring joy and laughter to all involved.
We also hold a book club for adults with disabilities. Led by Ed Morrissey from Greenwich Library, the group chooses a book to read together and then watches a movie based on their readings. A recent fave: the classic 1877 novel Black Beauty, written by the English author Anna Sewell in the last months of her life. It’s a favorite of mine too; a book I’ve often given as a gift.
In the summertime our Barbara's House kids read in different settings. A favorite among kids and staff alike is Thursday “Reading with Dogs. ” Kids sprawl across our front lawn reading stories of their choice to therapy dogs brought to us by wonderful owners. Dogs (and the occasional rabbit), we find, are thoroughly non-judgmental and so make a phenomenal audience.
To mark our sixty-fifth anniversary this year, we’re joining with Julian Curtiss School, the International School at Dundee, and New Lebanon School to sponsor a month-long celebration of reading called “65 Ways to Be a Reader.” Says Julian Curtiss Reading Specialist Grace Blomberg, “We are perpetually grateful for the way Barbara's House works to support our students and families. After a great brainstorming session, we feel we’ve come up with a fantastic way to celebrate and commemorate the sixty-five years of unparalleled social work that Barbara's House has offered our community.”
The initiative, to be held throughout the month of March, will offer children in grades K-5 in these three schools the chance to complete as many of the sixty-five different ways to be a reader as they can. Opportunities range from listening to audio books to reading Sunday comics, reading aloud to adults or being read to and so many more. As the program progresses, participants will fill out a ‘bingo sheet’ of reading opportunities they have completed. At the end of the month, each school will hold a drawing for prizes including extra recess, no homework for a day (principal approved!), a pizza party, and more. One child will win a grand prize of a brand new bike, thanks to the generosity of 10538 Bicycles in neighboring Larchmont…just in time for spring!
So why this extraordinary emphasis on reading? As is my habit, I’ll turn to wonderful authors, who said it better than I ever could:
“We read to know that we are not alone,“ said Sinclair Lewis.
“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young,” observed Maya Angelou.
Ernest Hemingway felt “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” And the very great Dr. Seuss urged “Be awesome! Be a book nut!”
This post first appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel.