Ten years ago, Cathy Lewis’ first-grade niece was having trouble reading.
She wasn’t getting the extra help she needed in class, and the school suggested she be held back a year. But Lewis said she thought there could be another way to get her the help she needed, and without hiring a reading specialist.
It was a trip to the city’s Senior Center that triggered the brainstorm that would start a decade-long program that has since served thousands of Meriden children and involved hundreds of senior volunteers along the way. It was there she said she and co-founder Donna Mordarski realized, “Hey, they’re a fountain of information, what do you think, can we figure out a way to utilize it?”
And the Senior Buddy Reader program was born.
Senior Buddy Readers matches first and second graders from Meriden schools who need extra reading help with senior volunteers. Each week, a student will spend half-an-hour with the same senior buddy or mentor, reading, working on spelling and other skills and strategies for literacy.
On Thursday afternoon, as the skies darkened and gave way to a pounding thunderstorm, the program honored its volunteers with a 10-year ceremony and dinner at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center. Lewis handed out awards for perfect attendance, 5 years of service and a special award for City Councilor Matthew Dominello, for being a major supporter of the program. Three volunteers who started in the program's first year, Peter Burch, Jean Ferry and Richard Gault, were awarded plaques for a decade of their service.