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Volunteer Network Has East Bay Kids 'Succeeding By Reading'

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) When an East Bay pastor decided to give up preaching, it wasn't because he was ready to retire. Instead, this week's Jefferson Award winner is helping second graders improve their reading.

Randy Roth couldn't believe that 60% of Oakland third graders were behind in their reading skills. So 15 years ago, he gave up his work as a full-time pastor to establish "Faith Network of the East Bay." He says it's not a church, it's a "community benefit" non-profit.

"We do not provide religious services," he explained. "But we provide services."

Those services now reach into 36 East Bay schools, mostly in Oakland. Programs include workplace internships and college scholarships. But a key program is one called Succeeding by Reading. Three hundred tutors spend an hour a week working one-on-one with second graders, focusing on reading and comprehension.

"It's one thing to read words on a page. It's another thing to carve a pumpkin so you know what pulp really means," Roth pointed out.

Volunteer Carolyn Piraino has worked with Roth since the beginning.

"Many of the children come in here and they just quite simply hate reading," she said. "It's so hard for them they just don't want to do it -- even the simplest books."

Curtis Crum retired as a teacher, only to become a tutor three years ago.

"All of a sudden seems like a light comes on and all of a sudden a kid will go through all these flash cards no problem at all!" Crum said.

It happens for students like Carolina Bedoy.

"Because when I first went to second grade I was on level F but then I went all the way to K and L," Bedoy said proudly.

By the end of the school year, each student gets to write their very own short story, which is incorporated into a class booklet. Then they get to pick out two other books to take home and keep.

For Roth, there's satisfaction in seeing his career change pay off.

"Seventy percent of our kids who go through the program for the entire year will advance by at least 2 and sometimes 3 grade levels by the end of the school year," he reported. "That's very fulfilling."

So for helping second graders read to their potential and beyond, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Randy Roth.

Volunteers are always needed for Faith Network of the East Bay. If you'd like to participate, use this link.

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