Brotherly Love: Reading Program Connects Senior Citizens With Children

Janelle Burrell reports.

Video Transcript

JESSICA KARTALIJA: This week's story of Brotherly Love-- a novel reading program has connected senior citizens with young children virtually. Janelle Burrell has the story.

- After the sun, there's a smiley face.

JANELLE BURRELL: You're looking at Making Friends With Books. It's a program by the Penn Literacy Network, connecting senior adults with young students in grades two and four. Diane Ajl is a retired lawyer turned volunteer reading teacher.

DIANE AJL: We spend a good bit of the time reading and talking about the book and talking about how the book relates to our young reader's life and do some drawing.

JANELLE BURRELL: The program was conceived by Executive Director Bonnie Botel-Shepard. She knew kids and seniors were isolated during the pandemic.

BONNIE BOTEL-SHEPPARD: What's important about this program is that we have volunteer senior adults making literacy connections and relationship connections with young children.

DIANE AJL: What do you think of that yellow there [INAUDIBLE]?

ALEJANDRA RODRIGUEZ: I think it brings happiness.

JANELLE BURRELL: The program has made a big difference to fifth grader Alejandra Rodriguez.

ALEJANDRA RODRIGUEZ: When you read, you can improve your vocabulary.

JANELLE BURRELL: She's a student at St. Martin of Tours School, but had to stay home during the shutdowns.

ALEJANDRA RODRIGUEZ: I feel like sometimes I just pay attention to my phone too much. So to have time to read with somebody feels pretty good.

JANELLE BURRELL: The idea is to connect children and seniors once a week for 30 to 45 minutes over five weeks. It seems like a short time, but Alejandra's mother said it made a big difference.

IRIS SANCHEZ: And she's not saying, but she's got straight As. And I think that part of this program has impacted her grades immensely.

JANELLE BURRELL: And made a big difference to the seniors as well.

DIANE AJL: And to have this experience with someone who I never met before is really wonderful.

JANELLE BURRELL: And now Alejandra is encouraging her family and everybody else to read.

ALEJANDRA RODRIGUEZ: Sometimes they should just take, like, five minutes every day to just pick a book and kind of look and have a calm moment for themselves and take a mental break.

JANELLE BURRELL: The program funding pays for the books and materials as well as salaries for coaches who help facilitate those sessions. Tell us who's spreading smiles in your community at cbsphilly.com/brotherly. Janelle Burrell, "CBS 3 Eyewitness News."