April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Jewish Federation’s Bergen Reads Celebrates 15th Anniversary With Bonding Through Books

On April 20, The Jewish Federation along with Hackensack and Teaneck elementary schools hosted Bonding Through Books, a celebration of 15 years of Bergen Reads, a program that places volunteers in local elementary schools to assist students in pre-K through fourth grade with their reading skills. The event took place at the Nellie K. Parker elementary school in Hackensack and was well attended by school principals, teachers, family members of the students, and volunteers and members of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the federation, which organized the event. Local mayors were also in attendance.

Since its inception, Bergen Reads has grown tremendously, starting with 45 volunteers and currently placing 160 volunteers in nine public schools. These volunteers work with more than 350 children on a weekly basis. The program, however, offers more than just additional help for the students in learning to read. It offers children undivided attention and an interpersonal connection. The volunteers develop a relationship with the students and often serve as mentors for these children.

The evening began with a flag salute and a choir presentation by students from various elementary schools. Opening remarks were offered by Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, who explained that learning is integral to the success of a child and through this program they are planting seeds for future generations. Teachers involved in the program shared experiences, including Tony Jackson, a teacher and poet who composed and delivered an original poem about Bergen Reads.

Perhaps the highlight of the event was fourth grader Michael Nieves, who spoke about Ruth and Rubin Camins, a Bergen county couple who have been reading buddies for many years. “He made books come alive,” said Nieves about Mr. Camins. The Camins made a huge impact on many of the students that they buddied with, and even on those that they hadn’t partnered with. “Bergen Reads is the one-on-one time the children need because they don’t necessarily get it at home,” Mrs. Camins said. At the end of the school year the Camins bought a book for each child they were connected to in the classroom. Their enthusiasm and dedication to the children was immeasurable.

Many of the students come from homes where English is not spoken, making reading more difficult. “The name of the event is ‘Bonding Through Books’ because that’s what it’s all about. We meet with these children who for whatever reason are behind with their reading skills. For some of the children, it may just be because they come from Spanish-speaking homes and no one can help with their reading at home. For some, the reading skills aren’t bad but the vocabulary is not there. For others, who knows? They need help with their reading, and it’s holding them back on every subject,” explained Barbara Selman, co-chair of Bonding Through Books and the JCRC Intergroup Relations Committee.

Martha Cohen, co-chair of Bonding Through Books and the JCRC Intergroup Relations Committee expressed her sentiments about the program. “One of the key goals of the evening, in addition to celebrating the significant impact of Bergen Reads these past 15+ years, is to take a deeper step and get to know each other better, adding to the strength of our community as a whole. As the beloved Erik Einstein song, “Ani V’Ata,” says, “You and I will change the world, then all will follow.” In other words, nurtured friendships lead to a better world as evidenced by the impact of the Bergen Reads program, and we aspire to continue to expand and deepen our relationship with the broader community.”

Many of the people involved in Bergen Reads, including teachers who work with volunteers in the elementary schools, are unaware that this program is funded and run by the Jewish Federation. Programs such as this one represent what the Jewish Federation stands for, and they believe it is important that the greater community recognizes this. “The Bergen Reads celebration was a wonderful vehicle to foster relationships with the broader community,” commented Selman. Over the past few months in particular, the Jewish community has witnessed a rise in anti-Semitism as well as hate crimes directed at the broader non-Jewish community. Through programs such as this, the program strives to create a positive energy and stand united against these negative forces.

While the core objective of the program is to cultivate reading skills, the value runs so much deeper. Friendships and bonds are developed that create a trust and confidence in the children that is fundamental to their growth. The evening allowed parents and community members to join those friendships. “You are never too old or too young to be each other’s friend,” said Donna West, a teacher at the Nellie K. Parker School in Hackensack.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. The remarkable volunteers in the village of Bergen County, along with the support of Bergen Reads, have proven that every child counts. For more information on how to become a reading buddy please contact Beth Figman, Jewish Federation’s director of volunteer services, at [email protected] or 201-820-3947.

By Andrea Nissel

 

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