Story Time Project - Connecting Through the Disconnect

By Marika Lou February 24, 2014

It feels strange to coordinate a weekly program that I never actually see in action. As the Storytime intern, I sit in an office and hunch over spreadsheets and emails- with the occasional copy machine for variety- and perform those tasks necessary for keeping the Storytime Project running smoothly. Unless a volunteer needs to meet with me because they need a one-on-one training or need to submit some paperwork, I don’t get to meet the person whose name, schedule, preferences, and abilities are neatly charted on my spreadsheets. Sometimes I find myself inventing people and personalities to go with the people on paper, imagining them expressing happiness at a good reading match or frustration if a match isn’t working out.

Last October, we had an all-volunteer service event for Storytime for the first time, and it gave me a taste of what seeing the volunteers I had carefully matched in action was like. I felt so content and fulfilled seeing them undertake service projects for Walla Walla Public Librarian Liz George with gusto, and seeing the proof with my own eyes as to which reading pairs were really clicking and which were timidly just starting to get to know each other. I still, however, wish I could be a fly on the wall when my volunteers go to read, because that is, after all, what we all feel passionately about and why we participate in the Storytime Project. I have read for Storytime all 4 years of my time at Whitman, and have formed a great friendship with my reading partner, Ahren Stroming- a random assignment freshman year, and now the only person I’ve read with for Storytime, barring one of his semesters abroad. As a result, I know what my relationship with my reading partner and with the kids I read to looks and feels like, but I have no idea what those things look like for any of my volunteers.

A couple weeks ago I tagged along with another reading pair to take some pictures of them reading. Unexpectedly, the most fulfilling part of that excursion was getting to watch them in action at Giant Steps Preschool and Childcare- to see how happy and welcoming the teachers were, how excited the kids were to see them, how the kids knew them by name and how they continued conversations with the readers they had started the week before, as if they’d never left. The readers were so clearly having a great time reading to the kids, making different funny voices for characters and asking the kids questions, and were just about as sad as the kids were when it was time to go. This, I remembered vividly, is why I do this job.

It’s pretty easy to get bogged down by the administrative side of things, especially when you never really get to see the actual end result of your efforts. It doesn’t exactly bother me that I have no control over what the volunteers are actually doing and that I don’t really know what any of their experiences are actually like, but sometimes I feel as though something is missing. I have found, however, that I can get by on trusting that these volunteers truly want to be there, doing something they care about, for kids that they have come to care about. And each little snippet, each small anecdote of volunteers having a great time reading or them going the extra mile to make reading happen that week that trickles back my way, is a precious ray of sunshine streaming into the office as I work. I truly am thankful that I can facilitate Whitman students playing a small, but important, part in promoting early literacy and helping kids fall in love with books in the Walla Walla community.