Volunteers Get the Best Gift

Summer Enrichment Programs End in Merced with Happy Kids and Delighted Helpers.

Children take part in the Summer Enrichment and Reading program organized by Harvest Park Educational Center in Merced. Photo: Steve Newvine

Children take part in the Summer Enrichment and Reading program organized by Harvest Park Educational Center in Merced. Photo: Steve Newvine

Ask any non-profit organization how valuable their volunteers are, and you’ll get an earful of praises.

Most of the kind words can be summed up in one sentence: We couldn’t do it without them!

That’s the case for the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program organized by Harvest Park Educational Center, a Merced-based non-profit organization that is sponsored by Valley Harvest Church.

When Esmeralda Ramirez decided to devote part of her summer helping young people, she knew it might be hard.

“I wondered what it might be like, and wondered whether I was up to it,” she says.

Esmeralda got everything she hoped for during her time working with young learners.

“It’s really encouraging to see these kids be excited about learning.”

One of the first projects students in the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program embarked upon was stuffing t-shirts for use as pillows during rest breaks. Photo: Steve Newvine

One of the first projects students in the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program embarked upon was stuffing t-shirts for use as pillows during rest breaks. Photo: Steve Newvine

We heard about the organization’s program last year and shared the story of children getting immersed in exposure to such STEM areas as science, technology, engineering, and math.

Those lessons continued in this latest version of the program, but there were some changes.

“We added a reading program this year,” says Managing Director Gloria Morris.

“We acquired a nationally acclaimed program called “All About Reading” and introduced it to the students in the afternoon session.”

Volunteers helping out include a reading specialist, a parent, a high school student who was served by the program when she was younger, and four college students.

Magdalena Valdez is another college student who made the most of the five weeks she had with the children in the program.

“I created lesson plans and served as the lead intern in charge of pre-K through third grade,” she says. Like everyone touched by the program this summer, the time went by quickly.

“The summer just flew by,” Magdalena says. “I can’t believe it.”

Lily Ketchum and her daughter Jaime continue to give their time almost every year. “Jaime participated as a student in 2008,” Lily says. “And now she’s back as a volunteer.” Betty Jackson-Yilma helped pilot the “All About Reading” component to this year’s program.

“The improvement in the student’s reading comprehension has been gratifying,” she says.

“But to see their desire to read, to want to read more and more, is really satisfying to me as an educator.”

The Summer Enrichment and Reading Program ran for five weeks this summer with students spending their mornings in a classroom at UC Merced, and their afternoons at the Harvest Valley Learning Center on 25th Street in Merced. Photo- Steve Newvine

The Summer Enrichment and Reading Program ran for five weeks this summer with students spending their mornings in a classroom at UC Merced, and their afternoons at the Harvest Valley Learning Center on 25th Street in Merced. Photo- Steve Newvine

Colleges represented with interns this year were UC Merced, Merced College, UC Stanislaus, and San Jose State. Melissa Chavarria is pursuing a children development college curriculum.

She came to the program because service in a child development program was a course requirement.

She’s leaving her volunteer post with a great deal of satisfaction. “Working with the children opened my eyes a little,” she says. “Now I know I can handle it.”

If there is such a thing as a winner in an effort like the Summer Enrichment and Reading Program, one needs to look no further than the smiling faces of participating children.

Most of them greeted me with a smile when I entered the classroom. One of them made his way up to me and shook my hand.

He was seven years old. Managing Director Gloria Morris confirms reading skills have increased, character development is becoming more prominent, and children are having a good time.

“We are pleased with the results from this year’s program.”

While the volunteers are praised by the staff that puts on the program, they in turn give kudos by heaping lots of admiration to the team that makes it all possible. One of the volunteers said it best with just a few words.

“I couldn’t get over how caring the staff is toward us and toward each other.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.

You can read about some of the places he has traveled in the golden state in his book California Back Roads, available at Lulu.com