In honor of National Mentoring Month, we chatted with one of our volunteer Reading Mentors, Kimber McDowell, to hear more about her experience. Kimber has been volunteering with us since October 2020. She heard about The Shadow Project when looking for mentoring opportunities through her university’s community service board.
As a Reading Mentor, Kimber leads a small group of students with learning challenges to set reading goals and celebrate their progress. She shows students how to use Learning Ally, an audiobook technology platform that allows struggling readers to read books with their eyes and ears and boost their reading skills in the process. During COVID-19, Kimber and her mentees meet virtually for reading practice and connection with peers while remote school continues.
What made you decide to become a Reading Mentor?
Kimber (KM): I love working with kids and LOVE reading, I was the book-nerd type in my grade school. I feel that kids can find a lot of joy in reading and learn a lot from it, as well. If there was anything I could do to help get students excited about reading, and more generally feel satisfied with school, I knew I’d love to do so.
What’s your mentoring style?
KM: I’m still a kid at heart, really, so I try to just talk to my mentees like a friend. I try to suggest ideas instead of assignments, and welcome input from the students, knowing they have just as much to teach me as I do them! I want it to be group they look forward to.
What’s something you’ve learned as a Reading Mentor?
KM: The scope of student’s interests! All my mentees are enthusiastic kids with a wide range of hobbies and talents. I don’t have half the energy for activities they do, and it’s very invigorating. Also, I learned that kids still read Warrior Cats and Captain Underpants like I did at their age!
Can you share a story of a student who inspired you?
KM: One of my students in our first meeting set a very high reading goal for himself, and admitted he wasn’t able to reach it the next week. Since then we’ve worked to find a more comfortable reading goal for him, and he’s never once displayed shame or stubbornness about having to lower his expectations. In my adult life I’ve found it can be very difficult to admit when things are too hard for you or you face challenges. My student’s willingness to learn really inspired me, to drop my own ego and stop being hard on myself when I have to slow down a bit.
What are 3 words to describe your experience volunteering with The Shadow Project?
KM: I would say 1) Organized. Especially in these times it can be hard to keep a big program like this in order, but the Shadow Project has been able to thrive despite changes. 2) Welcoming. The students and staff alike have always made me feel safe and very enthusiastic about getting to be a mentor. Everyone seems genuinely jazzed to have me! 3) Fun! I’ve had a blast getting to serve as a Reading Mentor, and I look forward to seeing my group and playing games with them every week.
What advice would you give to others looking to volunteer as a Reading Mentor with The Shadow Project?
KM: Don’t be afraid to try new things! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I filled out the form to volunteer, but being a Reading Mentor is really whatever you make of it. The staff is always there to support you, and the kids are always happy to try whatever game or idea you think might be fun. So just have fun with it!
I’m just honored, and very lucky, to get to have this opportunity! I didn’t expect it, but I’m having a lot of fun with the program, and I look forward to meeting with my kids every week.
Interested in becoming a Reading Mentor for K-8 students with learning challenges? Click here to fill out our interest form!
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