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Volunteer reading mentors are back at Perham elementary

For the first time in about two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reading mentors with the Kinship of Perham Area program were able to return to reading to Heart of the Lakes Elementary students.

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A reading mentor with the Perham Kinship program helps a student learn letters at Heart of the Lakes Elementary.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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PERHAM — The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the volunteer-based Reading Buddies program run through a partnership between Heart of the Lakes Elementary School and Kinship of Perham Area, where mentors visit the school and read with kindergarten students for 30 minutes to an hour. Recently though, Kinship volunteers were finally able to return to school on Wednesday, Nov. 16 with books and knowledge in tow.

"(This program is) promoting reading and getting kids excited to see it's important to do," said Kinship Executive Director Lonnie Hagen. "Usually children at this age realize (reading is) important for them, especially if someone comes in from the community. It's not just the teacher that shows you. It's even more important because these people are taking the time to come in and become your friend and help you with your reading."

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Perham-area elementary students curl up on the library couches next to their volunteer reading partners as they read together.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Kinship — a program dedicated to building connections between a learner ages 5-17 and a mentor — pairs Reading Program volunteers with an elementary student who shares similar interests and hobbies, such as sports or arts. Then, this volunteer will sit with the child, read and help teach them. Choosing a compatible match between a volunteer and a student helps the child and their mentor build an even stronger connection, Hagen said.

"I just love seeing it," she shared. "The kids treat (volunteers) like a movie star. If they see you out in the community, they're waving at you, or when you're walking down the hall and you're just visiting or at a school function and a child sees you, they're going to recognize you. So it's a connection. It's as positive a thing as possible."

While many kids already have positive adult role models in their lives, like parents and their teachers, having a friendship with another adult can be beneficial, Hagen said. Outside of reinforcing positive social interactions, she also believes that it helps to reinforce what students are already learning in class, such as letters and word pronunciation. They're able to practice these new skills in multiple environments.

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An elementary student and his Kinship mentor practice writing together.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Volunteering as a Reading Buddy mentor is an eight-month commitment from October through April. Volunteers read to children from 30 minutes to an hour on the first and third Wednesday of each month. If you or someone you know wants to be a reading buddy, reach out to Lonnie Hagen at 218-457-3901 or lonnie@perhamkinship.org. For more information on Kinship of Perham Area, go to perhamkinship.org .

"I'm just really grateful for (the volunteers) because it's so important," Hagen concluded. "The first year of when you're in school to get the basics and to see someone that is excited about reading, it just makes a child excited about it too."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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