Even small gifts change lives

Pay It Forward

Driven to Help Kids Succeed

With their little red bus full of books, a group of dedicated volunteers spent the summer fostering a love of reading in children and doing what they can to give them a better start to the school year.

“Summer is a time when the trees are lush and green and the flowers are full, and we want to foster this same type of growth in our kids’ reading abilities, rather than see them go dormant. The presence of the bus in one of our beautiful parks invites us all to remember the value of reading in our community.” – Stephanie Shea, West Fargo Little Red Reading Bus coordinator and a West Fargo Public Schools educator

Bell Employee

Alison Ottesen

Administrative Project Support

Fargo

Recipient

The Little Red Reading Bus

The Need

Young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer, but research shows that reading at least 6 books over summer break greatly decreases what’s known as “summer slide.”

The Little Red Reading Bus is a volunteer-run library on wheels in West Fargo that helps give access to kids who might not otherwise have a way to get to the library. The program is geared toward toddlers through fifth graders. Along with fostering a joy of reading, volunteers are trying to bridge the summer learning gap, especially for lower-income kids.

“If at-risk students don’t read or aren’t read to, by the time they’re in ninth grade, they’re at a 66 percent disadvantage in reading skills. It’s huge,” remarks Bell employee Alison Ottesen, who is also president of the West Fargo Education Foundation Board and a member of The Little Red Reading Bus advisory board. “I want everyone to have the advantage of being able to read and being successful in our community, which helps our community as well.”

The Impact

The bus stopped at two parks a day throughout West Fargo, and 80 to 100 kids visited each day. Organizers hoped to sign up 500 kids for Reading Bus cards over the summer, but in the first week, 400 kids signed up. They needed more books, fast, so Alison asked her co-workers for help and was able to collect 450 books from Bell employees.

“It let me know that people care,” Alison says. “It’s such a giving community.”

“If I had to choose just one word to describe the difference this program made, it would be joy,” comments Stephanie. “This was evidenced each day by the smiles on the kids’ faces, the personal connections we made with kids and their families and their excitement over finding just the right books to check out and read until their next visit. I am proud that not only did we foster the skill of readers we served, but we developed the will of the readers. They wanted to come back and visit. They wanted to read!”

Volunteers are now trying to supply 10,000 books for the bus. (They have 3,500.) You can buy books to donate at https://thelittleredreadingbus.com/, or you can drop off gently used books at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo.

Alison also donated her Pay It Forward funds to help the program with its summer celebration and operating costs. (Gas costs about $500 to $750 for the summer.)

“Donations quite literally, and figuratively, fuel our bus,” Stephanie notes. “We would not be able to do our important work without the generosity of those who have given so far.”

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