Victoria “Tory” Clinton, 25, is a long way from her hometown of Brooklyn, NY. Many of the young kids she mentors each week wish they had a home to go to. What brings them all together every Tuesday and Thursday at Crow Elementary is a love for reading.
Clinton is a literacy coordinator for the Reading Corps, a program designed by the Arlington Public Library to help enhance the reading and writing skills of PK4-third graders in Arlington ISD. Although most of the 27 students participating in the program live in local shelters, the Salvation Army – an Arlington Reads partner – has stepped up to provide transportation to the school.
When the students entered the gymnasium for the last meeting of the semester, volunteers had a surprise for the youngsters. No reading and writing on this day, just having fun. There was playing, dancing, hugging, even a tear or two shed before 5 p.m. hit.
Tory went on to say watching the students become more confident readers during the program made her very proud. But it wasn’t always that way.
“Initially the kids are a little apprehensive about doing Reading Corps, but once they get in the program and get acclimated with what we are doing and the routine, they look forward to being a part of it.”
Research shows early education is really important for children growing up in low-income families. That’s why Clinton moved to the Arlington area as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America)—to help fight poverty and illiteracy. As the leader of the Reading Corps, Clinton volunteers 40 hours per week and is paid a modest, monthly living allowance.
“Basically, I’m engaging low-income students of color and parents in literacy-focused programming,” said Clinton, who leads a team featuring a second AmeriCorps VISTA, individuals from the Salvation Army and AISD high school students.
As the kids prepared to leave for the afternoon, volunteers handed out early Christmas gifts—free books to enjoy. Just seconds later, several kids could be found sitting on the floor, eyes scanning the pages—one word at a time.
“Right now we have the Reading Corps program in two locations, here at Crow Elementary and the Literacy House (near City Hall), but we’ll have 15 diverse locations in January when we start again,” explained Tory. “So besides elementary schools we’ll also be at the Boys & Girls Club and childcare centers throughout the city.”
To learn more about Arlington Reads, call 817-459-6985 or visit arlingtonread.org.