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Something for Everyone: The Story of Everybody Wins!
Seven-year-old Leela Bonnici has one hand on a cucumber slice and both eyes on a book. As she eats her lunch, she’s listening to her mentor, David Miles, read from a story about the Thea sisters, a group of mouselike characters who appear to be amateur sleuths. Leela is a big fan of the series. Miles and Leela meet every Tuesday in Montpelier’s Union Elementary School conference room during Leela’s lunch period. The pair will read, talk about books, and sometimes play games together. It’s all part of “Everybody Wins!,” an organization that brings adult mentors and student mentees together to build friendships and foster an interest in reading. Students win when they become more interested in reading and, often, more proficient readers. Mentors win because their role is a satisfying one, and companies win because when they encourage and make it possible for employees to volunteer, morale gets boosted. Everybody Wins! was created more than 40 years ago when a New York City textile executive, Arthur Tannenbaum, discovered “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease. Tannebaum was struck by Trelease’s assertion that reading aloud to children is the single most important factor in improving literacy skills. While read-alouds are a tradition in many households, not all families can do this on a regular basis. With the support of his wife, Phyllis, Tannebaum began going into New York City schools as a volunteer reader. The two eventually founded Everybody Wins! and the model, although not always under that name, began to spread across the country. In 1993, Senator James Jeffords along with Senator Paul Simon were inspired by Tannebaum’s work and led a bipartisan group of senators and senate staff to become volunteer readers in a Washington D.C. public school. Jeffords then brought Everybody Wins! to Vermont.There are now 15 schools in Vermont with Everybody Wins! programs. Four additional schools have shown in interest. Montpelier’s program has been operating for almost two decades (except during the pandemic). “One student found out she was going to have a mentor and was so excited. She was bouncing up and down as we walked to meet the volunteer,” says Montpelier’s Everybody Wins! Coordinator Caitlin Drescher. Drescher would like to pair a mentor with all Union Elementary School students who request one; however, there aren’t enough volunteers. Right now, Everybody Wins! operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays with second-grade students only, but Drescher is hoping to find more interested adults. “We hope to be serving a broader age range and more students in the near future,” she adds. Prospective volunteers are asked to provide three references and to meet with Drescher so she can get to know them. This makes it easier for her to find a good match. Once an application has been approved, training is provided. After that the volunteer comes in once a week for about an hour. On this cold January morning, Deborah Dwyer is sitting with her mentee, Ashvita Marshetty, as they ponder the next move in the game Connect 4. Ashvita enjoys participating in Everybody Wins! but isn’t sure she’ll be a mentor herself when she grows up. The seven year old hopes for a career as a fashion designer and wonders if she’ll be too busy. Dwyer smiles and reminds Ashvita that mentors can have regular jobs, too. Dwyer should know. The Montpelier freelance editor has been a volunteer for 14 years. She advises prospective mentors, “You don’t have to do anything ‘educational’ … Just be there for the child and follow their lead. Have fun.” Miles, Dwyer’s spouse, is also a long-time Everybody Wins! volunteer. He’s discovered a lot about kids and reading after mentoring for 12 years. “They really remember the details from the stories I’ve read. … I’ve enjoyed this. I missed it during the pandemic,” he says. Merry Schmidt began volunteering as a mentor at the beginning of the 2022–2023 school year. She works with Aspen Reardon, a cheerful second grader who notes “Even when you can read on your own … it feels good to be read to.” Schmidt adds, “I have four grandboys whom I cherish, and while it didn’t really matter to me whether my mentee was a boy or a girl, having a relationship with Aspen gives me more than an inkling of what having a grandgirl would be like … Aspen is a delight. She’s a gift to me and I think and hope that feeling is reciprocated.” Aspen smiles back at her mentor. “I love Tuesdays,” she says. For information about volunteer opportunities or paid positions as Everybody Wins! coordinators, contact Caitlin Drescher at email@example.com