I picked up a rock with writing on it. What it said was, “You helped me learn to read.” I don’t know who wrote on the rock, but I do know who it was written to and why. This message was one of many written on smooth river rocks at a celebration of life the day after my brother-in-law’s funeral. Rocks and pens were on every table and guests were encouraged to remember Bruce in their own way. The plan is for family members to take a rock with them on hikes to beautiful places that Bruce would have enjoyed and leave it there in his memory. There must have been over 200 people at this party for Bruce, so the serendipity of me picking up that particular rock continues to captivate my imagination.

Many people spoke to the big things that Bruce accomplished in his life and, for a sister-in-law who has always lived a thousand miles away, those things were impressive but barely registered with my recollections of Bruce. But the rock, that rock, speaks volumes because it is so small and personal. One person helping another person learn to read. What a magnificent epitaph.

This particular event happened in Kalispell, Montana but the funeral could have just as easily been for you or me. We only have so much time on this planet to do those things, big and small, that make the difference. And given the current educational statistics, we could certainly spend some effort on helping children learn to read. That brings up a compelling question for our whole community when we realize that our adult literacy and childhood poverty levels are high. How do children learn to read if they have never been read to and, perhaps, never even see a book before they get to school? It’s much easier to learn to do something if you already have some experience with it. For most of us who love books, we started early with someone reading to us. We learned to love to read by being read to. Too many of our children go through their most formative years without the pleasure and sanctuary of being read to by someone who loves them. When they get to school, learning to read is a more mysterious process than it is for their book-enriched classmates.

As a teacher, Rhonda Karol cares deeply about kids and books. For the past three years, during her summer vacation from teaching preschool, she leads a volunteer group to bring the joy of books read aloud to children. She and her cadre of adult avid readers share their favorite children’s books by reading them to children. This summer twenty Las Crucens took their love of reading to 3,000 children in twenty LCPS K-3 Plus schools. Through their efforts and thanks to an Innovations in Literacy grant from the US Congress, children also received a brand new book of their own to take home. I am proud to be part of this group.

We at Children’s Reading Alliance wish to express a special thank you to Rhonda and Jennifer Haan, Coordinator of Elementary Education for Las Cruces Public Schools, and to our amazing and talented volunteer readers: Jan Reed, Alison Bills, Claudia Billings, Ruth Rubin, Jodie Nachison, Chris Chaput, Glenda McShannon, Robbie Levey, Carol Winkler, Lynda St. Clair, Cindie Shonk, Bonnie Schranz, Maria Flores and to Jim Billings for delivering the books. All together they read approximately 200 times during the month of July.

The novelty of someone new provides an opportunity to make a big impression. Speaking from my own experience, children respond readily to the cozy environment of story time. They actually remember what a stranger says about loving to read and how sharing a story is a way of giving a gift. One child remembered me from a previous summer, and inquired, “Do you and your husband still read to each other?”

So keep your eyes open for a pretty rock. And remember that even the smallest of gestures on your part can reap a lasting impact for someone else.