Read With Me Volunteer of the Year article in the Desert Sun June 2021

2021 RWM VOTY Desert Sun Article Pic.jpe

For the first time since the pandemic closed down indoor gatherings, Read With Me Volunteer Programs was able to hold its annual Volunteer of the Year Awards on Wednesday, May 19, with limited seating and honorees. It was obvious by all the smiles in the room at Hope Lutheran Church in Palm Desert that the attendees were enjoying the freedom of being allowed to celebrate in a small gathering.

Heading the event was the energetic founder and president of RWMVP, Roberta Klein. Klein and her husband, Clay, formed the nonprofit 15 years ago to help disadvantaged children coming from homes where families spoke only Spanish to learn, read and comprehend English.

Over the years, volunteers have worked in the classrooms under the direction of a teacher at 14 schools; seven of these schools are in remote sections of eastern Coachella Valley. During the recent school closings due to COVID-19, Klein and her team came up with an alternative plan to teach 200 volunteers, most of whom were senior citizens, how to tutor via Zoom. Through it all, the volunteers devoted more than 8,000 hours during the past year, continuing the inspiring work of tutoring remotely instead of in person.

Pastor Derek Fossey of Hope Lutheran Church welcomed everyone and gave the opening prayer before introducing master of ceremonies Patrick Evans, KESQ’s chief meteorologist, as well as the newly appointed board member of RWMVP. Evans escorted Klein to the podium. 

Klein said that $475,000 is the RWMVP budget for the upcoming school year, which commences July 1 and runs through June 30, 2022. The biggest expense has always been the bussing of some 300-plus volunteers. Because the normal use of public school busses would not be available this year, RWMVP had to contract with a private company at a cost of nearly $100,000.

“This means that our nonprofit still needs to raise $378,00 to cover volunteer recruitment, background checks, registration, training and classroom assignments, as well as providing books for the children to take home and materials for the schools,” Klein said.

Klein then invited Edwin Gomez, the newly appointed Superintendent of the Riverside County Office of Education, to the stage, where he made a stunning announcement that his agency has committed to funding the entire $97,000 bussing budget through a special grant for the 2021-22 school year.

“The Riverside County Office of Education is honored to partner with Read With Me through a transportation grant to help connect adult volunteers with student readers,” Gomez said. “We personally know the impact and power of the Read With Me Volunteer Programs. These programs make an incredible impact by assisting our students in becoming proficient and capable readers.”

Evans invited the following volunteer honorees to receive their special awards: Arlis Clarke, Wes Davis, Gladys Koaleff, Peggy Mathieson, Adrienne Lynne Silva, Darrel Cozen, Nat Tinnerino, Sasha Dourov, Sylvia Benoit, Thomas Myers, Jennifer Ridewood, Rich Funari, Christine Hughes, Ann and Charlie Fletcher, Lynn Baersch, Patricia Peters and Donna Piszczor.

For more information or to become a volunteer, call (760) 567-1830, email readwithmesd@gmail.com or visit readwithmevolunteers.com.

DeAnn Lubell, writer, novelist, and publicist, has represented nonprofits and businesses in the areas of marketing, event planning and fundraising productions in the Coachella Valley since 1991. She has served as a publicist for the McCallum Theatre since 2016 and is a PR and marketing representative for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley and Read With Me Volunteer Programs as well as her own newly founded nonprofit Amy's Purpose, an educational pet safety and predator awareness and counseling service.