The sense of empowerment and belonging that comes when we personally connect with a book is something that most Reading Seed students have never experienced. They don’t receive books as birthday presents or stay up late reading under the covers with a flashlight. They don’t wait with bated breath for the next book in their favorite series to be released.

For most Reading Seed students, reading for fun simply isn’t part of their lives — yet.

Reluctant or struggling readers face two main challenges: acquiring the necessary reading skills and cultivating the desire and motivation to read.

When children struggle with literacy, it is absolutely essential for them to discover a personal reason for reading — to experience the thrill of choosing their own adventures through books or learning about something that piques their curiosity.

Reading Seed volunteers help change children’s attitudes about reading by focusing on their individual interests and goals and by making reading fun. More than 20 years of experience and thousands of success stories show us that the Reading Seed program can change the way a child views books, school, and even their own ability to learn. Every school year, we see struggling students become proud, confident readers. We see children transformed into independent and engaged students who are excited about learning.

I consider myself very lucky to work with hundreds of dedicated volunteers who help create moments of transformation every day. To ensure every Reading Seed volunteer understands the importance of this work, I ask these questions at each new volunteer training: How many of you consider yourself “a reader”? Do you remember how it felt to write your name inside a special book, knowing it belonged to you?

As training continues, volunteers share and explore memories about how they became readers. What was it about that particular book or teacher that inspired them? Did it change the way they thought about themselves or the world? Was it the words or the pictures? A character they could relate to?

In one heartbreaking story, a reading coach shared that her student had returned the free books selected for him because there was no place in his house “to keep books” and he was worried they would get thrown away. Luckily, his coach wasn’t deterred and the next week she brought him a special box where he could keep his books safe.

According to the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress, 74 percent of Arizona’s fourth graders test below proficient in reading. This statistic is especially troubling in light of recent research that demonstrates a strong correlation between proficiency in reading by the end of third grade and high school graduation rates.

The challenge before us is daunting, but I believe together we can change this reality — one child at a time. And the solution is really quite simple if we start with young children and get the community involved.

Through Reading Seed, students receive more than one-on-one literacy coaching with a trained volunteer. Coaches make reading fun and they make it personal. They offer hope to the students who need it most.

So now I ask you: Do you consider yourself “a reader?”

You can play a role in supporting hundreds of struggling and reluctant readers in their journey towards personal achievement and academic success. No special skills or background is needed. If you can read to your children or grandchildren and can make a one-year commitment, you can be a Reading Seed volunteer.

Please donate, volunteer or advocate for children’s literacy today.

Tamara McKinney is the Reading Seed program director at Literacy Connects. Contact her at