When you think of Dr. Seuss, you may think of clever rhymes, green eggs and ham, or that iconic red and white striped hat. But for volunteers who participate in Read Across America Day, the author can be credited with even more—changing children’s lives.
On March 2, 2017, Lori Villegas, a committed volunteer and vice-chair of United Way’s Women United group, spent the morning reading “The Cat in the Hat” to second graders at Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School in the Brooklyn Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore. There, as part of Read Across America Day, she also helped kids make their own whimsical hats based on the book—and won’t soon forget the conversation she had with one particular young student.
“At one point I said to a boy, ‘Your hat is so wonderful and so special because it’s yours.’ And he looked at me and seemed shocked. He said, ‘I’m special?’” Lori recalled. “‘Of course, you’re special,’ I said. ‘Everyone’s special, and please don’t ever forget that.’ It shows you that this day goes way beyond just reading to children.”
Read Across America Day is a nationwide celebration that takes place annually on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. To recognize the beloved author—and his impact on early reading—United Way of Central Maryland mobilized more than 150 volunteers from 25 central Maryland businesses and organizations to participate in the event at 16 area schools. In addition to reading and hat-making, children also received a certificate of participation and had the chance to get their photos taken with The Cat, Thing One and Thing Two—characters from “The Cat in the Hat.”
This was the first time Lori, a senior vice president at Baltimore-based Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, had participated in Read Across America Day, and she says she was amazed by the kids’ excitement. “They really welcomed the volunteers who came in to help make the class a little bit more special,” she said. “I was just so overwhelmed by their enthusiasm for this program.”
Lori, who admits her favorite Dr. Seuss book is “Green Eggs and Ham,” believes the day was significant for all involved. “Not only do I think I made an imprint on their lives; they made an imprint on my life,” she said. “I left the school at 10:30 in the morning, and it made my whole day. I gained as much as I gave by being in that classroom, just because I got to see smiles on those faces. To think that I might have made an impact on a child who may not have been having a great day—that’s huge to me.”
Read Across America Day, which began in 1998, is an event that United Ways across the nation participate in annually. The event was founded to serve as a national reminder about the importance of getting kids excited to read books.
“The idea is to try to leave kids with the message that Dr. Seuss believed—that it’s important to go out there and read a book and find something interesting to you,” said Lori. “One of the things we want to pass on to these kids is that if you’re bored, read a book. A book can take you on a whole new adventure, to a whole different place.”
Lori said she truly enjoyed the experience and urges others to volunteer for the program next year.
“I think we take for granted the impact we can make on a child,” she said. “We tend to forget that sometimes a friendly face can come in and make a positive influence on their life. And that can make all the difference in the world.”
For more than 90 years, United Way of Central Maryland has been improving lives in the communities it serves: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County, Maryland.
United Way of Central Maryland is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization! | Tax ID: 52-0591543