Friday, April 10, 2009

An Abundance of Good Will: Competing to Serve

By Joan Levitt
Published in The Voice of the Southwest

Students from two top colleges on the East Coast have been
engaged in a friendly rivalry for years. Now some students from
Amherst and others from Williams College find themselves shoulder to
shoulder in an unexpected endeavor: volunteering on the Navajo
Reservation. The lucky recipients of this generosity are St. Michael
Indian School students.

The flurry of volunteers and thriving literacy at St. Michael
are the product of the hard work of many people, but three individuals
stand out: Reader to Reader Founder and Executive Director David
Mazor; Director of the Doris Hiatt Mentoring Program Sara Ackerman
Aoyama; and St. Michael alumnus and current Dartmouth junior Bethany
Hale. This week at St. Michael, the gifts of Mazor, Aoyama, and Hale

For several months, St. Michael High School students have
been receiving much needed new books from the non-profit charity
Reader to Reader, based out of Amherst College. Since 2000, Reader to
Reader has shipped over 2,000,000 books nationwide to under-resourced
schools. And as exciting as the arrival of new copies of Richard
Wright’s Black Boy and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony are to St.
Michael sophomores and seniors, the online mentorship provided by
Amherst students is equally welcome. Sara Ackerman Aoyama directs the
Doris Hiatt Mentoring Program, where St. Michael students discuss all
facets of literature with enthusiastic and committed college students.
Since St. Michael students logged on to the Reader to Reader online
discussion, reading focus has increased and expectations have risen.

Trust a good thing to spread by word of mouth. In late
March, at the invitation of St. Michael alum Bethany Hale, ten
students from Williams College in Massachusetts chose to spend their
Spring Break volunteering at St. Michael Indian School. Volunteer
Lyndsay Lau observed St. Michael sophomores chatting online with
Amherst mentors about Black Boy and asked how she could find out more
about the Reader to Reader program. Not surprisingly, she hopes to
convince her college to emulate the work of Mazor, Aoyama, and the
Amherst mentors!

Lau identified several aspects of the Reader to Reader
program that impressed her. “The fact that these college mentors were
recently in high school makes them very effective tutors. They
remember how it feels to be in high school but have also experienced
the level of work expected in college. Another thing that really
impressed me about the program was that it was a sustained program
that not only works with the high school students for one assignment
but actually follows the students throughout their high school
careers. I think that this is very important because it ensures that
the support of the program, and its lessons are not short-lived.”

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