"Hey lady, do you like mushrooms?" asked the little girl in the black leather cap, who was busy eating pizza in the cafeteria at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley's La Quinta clubhouse. She was one of the winners of the club's annual summer reading competition called Top Fifty Readers that has been an annual program for nearly three decades.
So, here I was Aug. 5 in a roomful of excited kids enjoying pizza provided by Coachella Pizza Company. Soon they would each be presented with award certificates from the club and backpacks received from the recent 2022 SunLine Transit Pack the Bus event as prizes for their efforts.
I told the little girl in the black leather cap that I indeed liked mushrooms. She then in all seriousness proceeded to give me a step-by-step account of how to prepare, in her opinion, a delicious "stuffed with cheese" mushroom dish. Oh, and I absolutely had to leave the stems on. This child and all the others seemed advanced in maturity, manners, politeness and respectfulness for their young ages. It was obvious they were products of a nurturing, directional and educational environment, as well as engaging in fun activities. The La Quinta Club reading program and its impressive results just confirmed this.
"This summer program serves two purposes," said Quinton Egson, the president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley. "First, to encourage youth to read during the summer and continue their learning. Studies have shown it is critical for children to continue to stay engaged in educational activities during this time. Secondly, it served as a generational connection activity for all involved, as participants are paired up with members of the La Quinta Senior Center where they share stories and connect with one another. This is our featured program for the education department during the summer."
The cafeteria went quiet when longtime unit director Siah Nix welcomed and congratulated the kids before introducing the program director, Mayra Dubose, who addressed the young audience.
"The Top Fifty Readers program is designed to help stimulate your brains," Dubose said. "It was created as an incentive education opportunity. So, when you go back to school, it will put you ahead, not behind the other students."
Scarlett Castro, age 10, won first prize for reading the most books. When called up to the stage to receive her certificate the rest of the children gave a loud round of applause, genuinely pleased for her.
The mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley is to save and enhance the lives of the young people in our community, especially those with economic and/or social needs, by offering a safe haven and meaningful youth development services provided by a caring and qualified staff.
For more information, call (760) 836-1160 or visit bgcofcv.org.
DeAnn Lubell, writer, novelist and publicist, has represented nonprofits and businesses in the areas of marketing, event planning and fundraising productions in the Coachella Valley since 1991. She has served as a publicist for the McCallum Theatre since 2016 and is a PR and marketing representative for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley and Read With Me Volunteer Programs as well as her own newly founded nonprofit Amy's Purpose, an educational pet safety and predator awareness and counseling service.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley names top 50 readers