JASON AXE, Reading to Kids, at WVRC on April 28th
PP PETER MORE provided the Invocation reminding us all that this was an Engineers prayer; For each new day with its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything thy goodness sends us, Let us be thankful now. Amen. Well chosen, PETER, thanks. JOHN HEIDT led the Pledge, plus The Four Way Test. President GORDON took over as Songleader, with My Country Tis of Thee.
There were guests, most unexpected of whom was LEE DUNAYER, our former member who now hangs his hat at LA 5. Special Guest Crista Stilley was with us, introduced by Membership chair PP MIKE NEWMAN. And the Managing Director of Reading To Kids, Karen Kiss, was there in support of our Speaker, Jason Axe. We missed PEGGY and LENNY - hope to see you both next week. And TODAY, the 28th, is DON PARK’S birthday - which cost him 32 bucks as a fine, based on some nefarious computations, no doubt.
I was pleased to recognize PP ED GAULD, who stepped forward a couple of weeks ago to present our award, a ship’s clock, to one of the Midshipmen in the UCLA Navy ROTC. PP ED, who became a Commander in the Naval Reserve as a Chief Engineer, really enjoyed making the presentation in our behalf. Today, at 5 pm, the Army ROTC will have their award ceremony, and ELLIOTT TURNER will present an engraved sword to an outstanding cadet. My thanks to both of you. And looking ahead, on Saturday May 22nd, the Air Force ROTC will have their award ceremony. It will be at the Reagan Library, and PP MIKE NEWMAN has said he may be available for the duty that day.
Auxiliary News: May 11th, next meeting, visiting the Getty Villa Museum on Pacific Coast Hwy. Roz Nelson is in charge, so please reserve with her. The group will carpool down, and there is no admission fee, except that each car is charged $15.00 for parking. Individuals will order their own lunch at the Getty restaurant, and then tour the facility. You should expect to be home by 4pm. Husbands are particularly invited to join this tour.
At this point, President GORDON felt compelled to offer a couple of jokes. The first one concerned twins, named Juan and Amal. Apparently they grew up in different countries. Their mother kept asking for pictures. Finally, Juan was photographed, and two copies were made. His mother continued to complain, saying she wanted a photo of EACH twin. To this, her husband is reputed to have replied, "Why - they're twins, once you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal.' (Perhaps this is better in the telling than in the reading...)
This led to a second offering. Once upon a time, there was a Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman. Apparently they wanted to attend the 2012 Olympics. But alas, they had no tickets. The Scotsman picked up a manhole cover, clamped it under his arm, and walked through the gate, saying “McTavish, Scotland, discus.” This inspired the Englishman, who picked up some scaffolding, put it on his shoulder, and announced, “Weddington Smyth, England, Pole Vault.” In turn, our Irish friend picked up a roll of barbed wire, hoisted it to his shoulder, and announced, “O’Malley, Ireland, Fencing”.
The good news is that we provided TWO excellent donations today. First was the matching gift of our Board for the Japanese disaster - members contributed $6,000, plus another $6,000 from the Board, for a total of $12,000! Well Done, everyone! And the Board offered another $5,000 to Reading To Kids, which was matched by the same amount from the Jack & Denny Smith Memorial Fund, which of course comes from our member, CURT SMITH and his brother, Doug, as Co-Trustees. And YOE cannot resist editorializing that that’s the way to use all that money we have in our endowment!
And thus, it seems natural that CURT SMITH should introduce our Speaker, Jason Axe. Jason Axe is the co-founder of Reading to Kids, a Los Angeles based nonprofit that began serving downtown Los Angeles area elementary schools in 1999. On the second Saturday of each month, Reading to Kids volunteers partner up with seven elementary schools to put on their monthly reading clubs. At those reading clubs, pairs of volunteers (including ED JACKSON, JOHN O’KEEFE, MARSHA HUNT and ERNIE WOLFE of our club) read to small groups of children with the goal of inspiring them with a love of reading, thereby enriching their lives and expanding their opportunities for success in the future. Jason is an alumnus of both UCLA and the UCLA School of Law, and currently works as an Assistant United States Attorney.
This is the 4th year that The Jack & Denny Smith Memorial Fund for Literacy has financially supported Reading to Kids. And, this is the 3rd year that Westwood Village Rotary Club and the Jack & Denny Smith Memorial Fund have matched each other in giving money to Reading to Kids. This year we are each giving Reading to Kids $5,000. Please welcome Jason Axe.
Jason began by stating that Rotary is his favorite as far as Service Clubs supporting Reading to Kids. While we have several consistent members who volunteer, he was previously offered support from the Lions Club - but it never happened. He showed us his souvenir - a lion statue - given when he spoke to them. Reading to Kids is a small organization, with an annual budget of $200,000, so our continued support really makes a difference. They have been supported by 11,000 volunteers since they began in 1999, and they provide Clubs at seven downtown elementary schools. This totals some 110.000 hours of volunteer time.
He asked how many of us had seen, “It’s a wonderful life” and almost everyone raised their hands. He then asked if we had seen “Sliding Doors” with Gweneth Paltrow, and the response was less, of course. Jimmy Stewart was given the wonderful gift of seeing what the world would have been like if he hadn’t lived the life he did - and I think we all remember it to be a very touching tale. It shows the many individuals who are affected by what he does. In Sliding Doors, Gweneth Paltrow has two scenarios, one based on catching the subway and one on missing it - the same general theme.
In 1997, just after graduating from Law School, Jason was exposed to seeing what could happen where people cared, and he was very impressed. Sister Janie Rutherford started a program, and had no place to meet. She asked Mayor Dick Riordan for one million dollars - and he gave it to her, so she could build what was needed. She was serving the under-served, (not the at-risk,) which has a negative connation. The purpose of her volunteer work was to serve the needs of the community. Instead of saying “Here’s what I can do for you” she simply asked, “What do you need?” Jason has followed this precept in developing Reading to Kids - and he found that the teachers and principals he was dealing with appreciated this approach.
He began by asking when would be the best time to offer a reading program. After school really didn’t work, so they settled on the weekend, first figuring they could meet every week. It turned out that there was a lot of work inbetween each session, and once they settled on a monthly program, it really took off. Thus the whole program was based on what the professionals - the teachers themselves - believed would work best. Once that was established, they were on their way. And we were reminded that Reading to Kids makes an extra effort to show each volunteer that they are appreciated. They find that they are reaching about 15% of the student body at each school - and speaking personally, I certainly recognize that the same students keep coming back. One particularly appealing feature is that each student receives a book of his own to take home each month. This of course can be the beginning of their own personal library - and those books are always available to them, whenever they want to use them.
Some of the volunteers are college students. UCLA Rotaract provides several students each month - these kids are really service-minded! You may recall an earlier Windmill where I reported that the entire music program that month was provided by Brent Woo, a Rotaract member from UCLA - he played several instruments, and was very well received. Relatively recently they have begun Parent programs, since many parents bring their children and then just wait around to take them home. These parent workshops can feature health, or diet, and are well received. Once a year we have College Spirit Day, when all the volunteers wear their school sweatshirts - and this causes the students to ask, what does that mean, etc? You can’t start too soon to implant the idea of how important college can be as a goal. This is fostered by asking, “Where are you going to college? Not if, but where - a significant difference. Most of the parents of these students have not gone to college, so implanting the idea early makes good sense.
At this point, Jason showed some excellent slides which illustrated how Reading To Kids works. The whole program is based on what the kids need, and their teachers are quick to fill us in. I remember wondering why we don’t ask them to read to us, rather than the other way around. The basic reason is that some of them don’t read very well, and they could be embarrassed by having that demonstrated. We do provide texts for those who want to read along silently, and there are usually some kids doing that. The books that we read are chosen by the teachers, who are the local experts here.
The kids served are from kindergarten to fifth grade, and there are two teachers with each goup. After the reading, there is craft time, and I am always impressed by how creative these young people can be. Personally, I’m not good at crafts, but almost all of them take to crafts quickly, and they then take their results home to show their parents, of course. The hours are from nine am until noon - and I should have pointed out that they actually have chocolate donuts available to the volunteers when we first arrive! This is set for the second Saturday each month, and as I said earlier, I see the same kids there each time - which shows they look forward to coming.
Yes, it is an exciting program, and my own advice is easy - come on in, the water’s fine!
And looking ahead, the final meeting of the year will be June 8th - save the date, please.