A SMART Investment

Since 1992, Oregon nonprofit SMART Reading has seen firsthand how powerful books can be in a child’s life.
Andy Vobora

Andy Vobora

Vice President of Stakeholder Relations, Travel Lane County. Past Rotary Club of Eugene board member and current membership committee co-chair.

Since 1992, Oregon nonprofit SMART Reading has seen firsthand how powerful books can be in a child’s life. “My love for reading was founded on the SMART Reading program. Reading has made my life so much easier because it helps me escape when I want and the skill gives me clarity on what needs to be done in everyday life,” says Dea’Naisa Willingham, one of the first SMART students at Vernon Elementary School in Multnomah County.

As a SMART reader, financial supporter and South Valley Area Leadership Council member for 23 years, I am thrilled each time I read a quote like Dea’Naisa’s. In my experience with SMART Reading, I’ve seen the magic of SMART happen for kids ages k-3rd grade time and again.

Unfortunately, in Oregon and nationally, children aren’t meeting reading benchmarks, a problem that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2021-22 school year, less than 40 percent of Oregon third graders were reading at grade level, which is a huge concern for the whole community, impacting individual children as well as the future health and prosperity of our state. Research shows that children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade experience significant academic challenges as the curriculum shifts from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” and are less likely to graduate high school than their reading-proficient peers.

Community-based organizations like SMART Reading are an important part of the solution, providing critical services for kids and families every day, and importantly, mobilizing and connecting Oregonians to be a force for good. SMART’s nationally recognized model is based on research that aligns with simple logic: when kids think reading is fun and when they have access to high-quality, inclusive books, they’re more likely to want to read and develop and hone the skill.

SMART is powered by community volunteers who help kids build reading confidence and motivation through regular one-on-one or group reading sessions. The organization also ensures children have access to books to keep and add to their personal libraries. Children who participate in shared reading sessions select books each month to keep, and thousands more children receive books through the Children’s Book Bank at SMART Reading, which collects, refurbishes, and redistributes community-donated books.

Importantly, SMART works. Over the last three decades, the organization has served more than 300,000 kids and has given away over 4 million books. Teachers consistently report that by the end of the year, 9 in 10 students participating in SMART grow in their motivation and enjoyment of reading, which is linked to greater reading confidence and proficiency.

This critical work is made possible by a community of Oregonians who believe in the power of reading to create opportunities for kids. Here are three ways that Rotarians can support this important work: 1.

  1. Volunteer: SMART Reading offers recurring volunteer opportunities statewide as well as one-time opportunities in the Portland Metro area. To learn more and apply, please visit http://www.smartreading.org/volunteer
  2. Make a Gift: SMART’s work is powered almost entirely by private funding. Community members can learn more and make a gift anytime, at http://www.smartreading.org/donate. Or, take part in one of our fundraising campaigns. Coming up this spring is Lawyers for Literacy, an annual online giving campaign that engages Oregon’s legal community in providing books and reading support to children.
  3. Connect locally: In addition to the main office in Portland, SMART Reading has regional offices across the state. SMART staff is available to speak to your Rotary Club about what SMART Reading is doing in your community. Email SMART@smartreading.orgor call 877-598-4633 to be connected to an office in your area.

Together, we can create an Oregon where all children can realize their full potential through reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *