Everybody WinsBy Jenn Ballentine

Founded in 1997, Everybody Wins Atlanta, a local affiliate of the national non-profit organization, is dedicated to promoting children’s literacy through shared reading experiences with caring individuals.

Everybody Wins Atlanta strives to improve children’s interest in and attitudes towards reading and their reading skills through its’ Power Lunch program that pairs children who are at risk for academic failure with reading mentors, volunteers who dedicate one hour a week to read to children. Volunteers read with the same student all year in order to develop a relationship and provide a mentoring experience.

According to Terri Beck, Executive Director of Everybody Wins Atlanta, these lunchtime experiences are proven to build the reading skills and love of reading in low-income students. “Reading out loud to children is extremely important. Most of these children’s parents cannot read. With the changing demographics in Atlanta and the growing numbers of children with English as their second language, there is a literacy gap. We are here to bridge that gap,” she said.

The program currently operates in eight Title 1 schools throughout metropolitan Atlanta and serves 500 children. Students are selected to be in the program by their teachers, who base their selection on three criteria: low standardized test scores, English as a second language and children who need a consistent mentoring experience. The children who participate in the program do not know that they have been selected because they have difficulty reading.

For Beck, who serves as a mentor as well as executive director, this is critical. One of the children Beck mentors is being raised by his grandparents and as such, he doesn’t receive a great deal of attention. “He loves the one-on-one attention. It gets closer to the element of a relationship and helps build his self-esteem,” she said.

Mentors are recruited from local businesses surrounding participating schools and trained in how to deliver the program and maximize the benefit to the children. Several volunteers, such as Whitney Munn, the Associate Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Kilpatrick Stockton, work for law firms. According to Beck, the program is a good match for the legal community. “They really understand truancy and the legal issues associated with that,” she said.

Munn, who has been volunteering as a mentor since 2004, agreed and feels that it is an extremely rewarding program to be part of. “When I was little, reading was my favorite thing to do. I was fortunate enough to have parents who read to me every night. It broke my heart that these kids didn’t have that. By providing regular and consistent reading opportunities to these kids, I felt I could help right what I felt was a horrible wrong,” she said.

Currently, approximately 550 mentors volunteer with the program. Everybody Wins Atlanta is seeking to recruit an additional 100 volunteers as they have a waiting list approximately 100 students long. For more information about Everybody Wins or to sign up to become a reading mentor, contact Beck at tbeck@everybodywinsatlanta.org or (404) 943-0404 or www.everybodywins.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.