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How I’m Raising Readers, One Book at a Time, with Philadelphia Reads

By November 16, 2017August 23rd, 2021Community Volunteerism

In first grade, I had a book buddy named Heather. I looked forward to seeing Heather every week when she came to Miss Keim’s classroom to read to me.

I wanted to practice very hard at home so I could show her how much I’d learned. I struggled with reading, but Heather’s excitement and enthusiasm was contagious. I gained more confidence with every story I read, and I learned that if I set my mind to something, I could achieve it.

Helping Kids Read Better, Earlier

When I got to fifth grade, I signed up to be a first grader’s book buddy. I wanted to share the same enthusiasm for reading that Heather shared with me with my buddy, Christian, so I guided him through the books, page by page, helping him sound out words and make sense of the pictures.

Imagine how excited I was when I started my job at Independence Blue Cross and discovered I could be a book buddy again!

I first learned that our Blue Crew volunteers support the nonprofit Philadelphia Reads when I saw nearly 40 first graders in our office building — it was hard not to notice them! — and now I’m one of the Philadelphia Reads project leads.

The goal of Philadelphia Reads is to “raise a city of readers,” and their work is crucial since Philadelphia ranks low among other big cities in reading proficiency. On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally sponsored standardized test, 86 percent of fourth graders in Philadelphia public schools scored below proficient.

We’re Tutors, Mentors, and Friends

Independence is part of the Philadelphia Reads Power Partners program. Every week, the entire first grade class from Isaac A. Sheppard Elementary School comes by bus to our Center City headquarters, where Blue Crew volunteers read with them one-on-one for an hour.

The students bring their own books, and we keep an onsite library to provide even more options. Some of their favorites are Pete the Cat, The Polar Express, and I Knew You Could. I love seeing the excitement on the students’ faces when they get a big word correct on the first try, or when they draw their favorite scene from a book.

The experience goes beyond sharing stories — we provide students with a creative blend of literacy enrichment, mentorship, and career education. Our volunteers help students to build their literacy skills, while inspiring them as living examples of how an education can lead to success.

We are their tutors, mentors, and friends.

Book Time in Your Life to Share the Joy of Reading

You, too, can help to “raise a city of readers.” Check out volunteer opportunities with Philadelphia Reads. I also encourage you to look for literacy programs in your area — your local library is a great place to start.

We all have busy lives, and our schedules can get “booked” with many different activities. But if you make time to bring a smile to a young child’s face through reading, I promise you won’t be disappointed.


Jennifer Bowers

Jennifer Bowers joined Independence in 2015. In her role as a business specialist, she works to support all divisions of the Public Affairs team. Jennifer graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and communications and is currently completing her MBA at West Chester University.