February Mentor of the Month

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Cooper Hubbell with his mentee, Denver

Our February Mentor of the Month is Cooper Hubbell. Cooper reads at Walnut Street School and is currently in his 6th year of reading with Everybody Wins! Iowa.

Cooper was first introduced to Everybody Wins! Iowa through his wife, who was introduced to the program through a group called 100 Women Who Care, an organization dedicated to supporting local charities in Des Moines.

“I was looking for a way to get involved in the community and give back a little bit, and this seemed like a good program just because of my personality,” Cooper said.

Cooper says that in terms of personality, he considers himself to be more of introvert. However, he also says he thrives when engaging with people.

“I think anyone that’s of that personality, this is the perfect opportunity to volunteer,” Cooper said.

This year is Cooper’s first year of reading with his current mentee, Denver, who is a fourth grader. This is Denver’s third year in the program.

Although Denver is a high-energy student, Cooper has done a great job keeping him immersed in the world of reading each week according to Anna Sunstrom, our Volunteer Outreach Manager (formerly Walnut Street School Coordinator).

“Cooper is an awesome mentor because he is able to keep Denver engaged when he reads with him each week,” Anna said. “The boys on Wednesdays request him when their mentors are gone and he is always willing to let them read with him and his mentee. He is always very helpful and welcoming.”

Cooper said that he has noticed a positive trend in Denver’s reading ability during this past school year.

“I don’t think Denver would be the person he is today without the program,” Cooper said. “I think his reading ability has improved, and he’s been more willing to read to me as we’ve gone through the last semester.”

Being a mentor is also more than just reading to your student, Cooper said. It also means being a friend.

“(Being a mentor) means being someone who listens, someone who helps to make your students day a little better any way you can,” Cooper said. “Whether that’s discussion or just reading, telling stories, talking about interests, or talking about jokes. So really just being a good friend. Someone who listens, someone who engages, someone who’s concerned about the student’s well-being.”

Thank you for being an awesome mentor, Cooper!

Welcome to our new intern, Emily Secrest!

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Meet our newest intern, Emily Secrest! Emily is a senior at Grand View University finishing up her degree in Human Services.

“As an aspiring Human Services professional, Des Moines provides countless opportunities to give back to the community and inspire positive change,” Emily said. “Everybody Wins! Iowa is a wonderful non-profit that helps students in the metro meet their literacy needs. It’s so inspiring to watch volunteers in the community take time out of their busy work schedule to mentor students. Every day I get to see the students develop a passion for reading that will serve them tremendously throughout their lifetime.”

January Mentor of the Month

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Barb Birchmier reading to her student, Natalia

Our January Mentor of the Month is Barb Birchmier. Barb is a mentor at Findley Elementary’s John Deere Financial sponsored Power Breakfast program.

Barb is an employee at John Deere Financial, which is how she originally got involved with the program three years ago.

“I think this is an opportunity that John Deere has given me to give back,” Barb said. “I read to my grandchildren and I read to my own children. But, to give back to somebody who might not have that person at home that has time to read. I really feel privileged that my company has given us the opportunity to read. It’s wonderful.”

Barb is a mentor to a third-grade student, Natalia. The pair is currently in their third year of reading one-to-one together each week and have been reading together ever since Barb started the program.

“I think that makes a big difference because when the kids come in, they’re looking for the same face or a familiar person,” Barb said. “So it’s really been more fun reading with my kids every single week rather than sharing them with someone else.”

When asked if reading on a weekly basis has helped Natalia’s reading skills, Barb answered: “Definitely.”

“When I started reading to her, she had sight words,” Barb said. “Those are words that they’re supposed to be able to memorize, and I pointed out the different words as I read them so that she could see where her sight words were. And now, she tells me what her sight words are. As she’s reading along she’s like ‘Oh, that’s right. That’s one of my sight words.’ So now she’s pointing them out to herself as she’s reading through them.”

One of Barb’s favorite parts about Everybody Wins! Iowa is that it also gives the children in the program the opportunity to add books to their at-home collections.

“One of the greatest things about this is where they get to take a book home,” Barb said. “They get excited about that. And then they take them home and they read them to their brothers and sisters. It’s well worth it.”

Barb seemed to not only be happy about the progress that Natalia has made, but was also quite enthusiastic about what she has seen out of the other kids in program as well.

“Just listen around the room,” Barb said. “Every child is attentive and they’re listening and the person is reading. It’s just a continuous giving. Look how connected they all are to their readers. There’s more things going on in here than just reading.”

Reading with a mentor not only makes a difference in a child’s reading skills, Barb said, but it can be beneficial in a number of other ways as well.

“I think the program is wonderful,” Barb said. “I think it makes a difference. And not just for the reading, the reading is extremely, extremely important, but the connection with another person. I think that’s very, very rewarding also.”

Thank you being an outstanding mentor, Barb!