Digital reading program creates long-distance connections

Traci MurphyOct. 6, 2021
Diane Shankwitz, Lead to Read KC Reading Mentor and Site Coordinator

Lead to Read KC has partnerships with elementary schools throughout the Kansas City metro, making it easy for local volunteers to sign up at a school near their home or office. But what about those living outside Kansas City who want to help? Our digital reading and mentoring program makes volunteering easy for them, too. For Diane Shankwitz, it was the digital program that caught her eye.

“Last year, my friends shared stories about helping their grandchildren, nieces and nephews with online learning,” Shankwitz said.

Shankwitz started Googling child literacy programs, and Lead to Read KC popped to the top of the list. It was there that she learned about the summer 2020 pilot of our digital program.

“My initial thought was ‘This organization is so committed to its mission that it will try different solutions to reach these kids!'” Shankwitz said. She signed on as a volunteer Reading Mentor in the summer of 2020 and continued volunteering through the summer of 2021. And though she would consider making the two-hour drive from Manhattan, Kansas, to volunteer in person, Shankwitz signed on to be a Site Coordinator for our digital program, which resumes this month.

While Diane was impressed that Lead to Read KC found new ways to help students, she was equally impressed by the program’s impact on students.

When Shankwitz’s student was absent, she was paired with other students. At one session, there was a boy who was bummed that his regular mentor wasn’t able to read with him. And he was also just having a bad day.

“I asked if he’d like me to read to him, and he said, ‘Yes, please!”” 

The pair decided on a book about designing cars and became so engrossed that their reading time flew by. 

“I looked at his camera image,” she said. “He was sitting in his chair, legs pulled up to his chest with arms hugging them, face locked on the computer. He’d completely escaped into the book. That’s the power of reading and human connection!”

That connection is what kept Diane coming back as a virtual volunteer.

“The perfect volunteer situation brings joy to both the volunteer and the recipient,” Shankwitz said. “On a day that I was slightly stressed, a child’s smile or eagerness to read warmed my heart and erased any stress. On a day a child was feeling down, simply giving them undivided attention for 30 minutes was perhaps a greater gift beyond just reading. Thirty minutes is so easy to give, yet it plants a seed that lasts a lifetime.”

You can bring a little joy into your life while helping Kansas City students catch up and keep up with their reading skills. Visit our website to learn how to become a Reading Mentor. Reading sessions start soon!

Want to see our digital program in action? Watch this short video.