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2023 Read With Me Volunteers of the Year

Carla Abell – Mecca

Kevin Baldwin – Agua Caliente

Karen Beck - Las Palmitas

Karen Bisgaard - Valley View

Jeff Clarkson – John F. Kennedy

Jenifer Coles – Palm View

Bruce Hall – Cathedral City

Mary Liedl – Mountain Vista

Jeannie & Jim Morris – Saul Martinez

Gail Olsen – Palm View

Bruce Pringle - Jackson

Issie Rabinovitch – John Kelly

Deanna & Randy Robinson – Peter Pendleton

Steve Spurgeon - Van Buren

Donna Tarka – Sea View

Thomas Thetford – Oasis

Eunice Trevor - Valle del Sol

Liz Walsh – Richard Oliphant

Kim Wheeler – Mariposa, Nevada

Clay Klein – Overall RWM Volunteer of the Year


Volunteers of the Year Biographies 

Carla Abell – Mecca 

Carla Abell says it has given her great pride and joy to participate in the Read With Me program since 2014.  For 29 years she has worked at the Eisenhower Medical Center as the ICU RN Case Manager.  When Carla first started with Read With Me, she found that looking into the eyes of her 26 Mecca Kindergarten students was the perfect balance she needed to offset her daily high intensity job. 

Clearly, Carla loves working with her students as she describes “their sparkling eyes and the cute way they wiggle about in their chairs.”  She says that it’s truly a very special honor to work with her Mecca teachers, Mrs. Mora and Ms. Castillo.  Carla’s biggest hope is to make just a little difference in the lives of her precious students.


Kevin Baldwin – Agua Caliente

Kevin Baldwin is one of those awesome volunteers who actually volunteers at two schools each week, working with students four days a week.  He is the Volunteer of the Year for Agua Caliente Elementary School, the most recent school to join the Read With Me program, but he also volunteers at Cathedral City Elementary School. 

After graduating from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, he spent the next 30 years in the travel industry, experiencing foreign cultures all around the world.  Kevin said that he owes his success to two amazing professional women who saw talents and capabilities in him, and became life-changing mentors to him.  It was the power of receiving that mentoring that drew him to Read With Me.  “As classroom tutors,” says Kevin, “if we can encourage and motivate our students to recognize and realize their full potential, we can end our time on earth with the knowledge that our lives were well spent.”


Karen Beck – Las Palmitas


For the past nine years, Karen has worked with teacher Dan Cabanting’s fifth and sixth grade Special Ed class at Las Palmitas, and has organized special field trips for the kids to the Rancho Mirage Library and the Cathedral City Museum of Ancient Wonders.  She also volunteers at the Living Desert and the Find Food Bank.


Karen exudes energy and has competed in the annual Coachella Iron Man Competition,where she runs, bikes and swims more than 70 miles.  She also takes part in the annual 20-mile Our Lady of Guadalupe event.  A retired physical education and special ed teacher, Karen moved from Dayton, Ohio, to Indio and almost immediately joined Read With Me through St. Francis of Assisi Church in 2014.


Karen Bisgaard, Valley View

Karen Bisgaard only started with Read With Me in November of 2021 and since then she has contributed 120 hours, working with two different teachers.  Karen volunteers 2 to 3 times a week and has purchased books and treats for the students.  She loves working at Valley View and spending time with the students.

One of her teachers, Mrs. Dell, says that “Ms. Karen is well-loved and respected in our class! The students are so excited to see her and to get a turn to read with her. Ms. Karen also generously provides goodies for the kids for holidays. She just loves seeing their excited smiling faces!  As a teacher, I appreciate that Ms. Karen is flexible. Whenever I need special help due to special school projects, Ms. Karen is there willing to lend a hand.  Ms. Karen is the perfect volunteer:  She multiplies the amount of time the children get instruction without adding any burden to my time. She is also always there to lend an ear and offer encouraging words when I’m having a rough day. I am thankful for the years I have had the privilege of working with Ms. Karen!”



Jeff Clarkson – John F. Kennedy

When Jeff Clarkson was looking to volunteer, he says that “I was looking to volunteer where there was a real need, where I felt I could make a true difference, and where my time would be well spent doing something I enjoyed.  Read With Me fit all those criteria. I think I get as much or more from the program as the kids. They brighten, my day each time I work with them. I always have a funny or heartwarming story or two or three to share with my spouse about what the kids said or did that day. After dealing with adults most of time outside of RWM, the kids’ innocent perspective on the world is refreshing. Jeff is a semi-retired corporate lawyer who sometimes thinks he missed his calling as a teacher. “My father was an elementary school teacher for his entire career, so it’s sort of the family business,” says Jeff.

Jenifer Coles - Palm View

Jenifer Coles started with Read With Me in November 2021, and has embraced all aspects of the program.  She volunteers in the classroom and has assisted in multiple book distributions at Palm View.  Jenifer is a beloved volunteer with the third grade class of teacher Mrs. Gloria Leija, who says that “the students and I appreciate her valuable time spent at Palm View and it is clear that Jenifer truly enjoys her time with us.  My students are eager to read with her.  She is extremely patient with my students and truly understands the needs of my students.” 

This year Jenifer also accepted the added responsibility of becoming the new Volunteer Coordinator for Palm View and has been a tremendous help in recruiting new volunteers.

Bruce Hall – Cathedral City

When it comes to volunteering, Bruce Hall is a Rock Star!  At Cathedral City, Bruce volunteers with two different teachers, 3 times a week.  And on top of that, he volunteered to participate in our RWM expansion to Agua Caliente Elementary school this semester where he volunteers once a week.  He also enthusiastically accepted taking on the role of Volunteer Coordinator for that school, already proving to be very effective and successful in that role.

Prior to retiring 5 years ago, Bruce worked for 30 years as Director of Child Nutrition for several school districts in Oregon and California.  Coming from a family of educators, his administrative role combined his fondness for education and his love of food and cooking.  Along with other professional accomplishments in his past, he is proud to mention that he also was able to fulfill his dream of owning his own restaurant in the Seattle area.  Bruce says, “It is a great pleasure to volunteer with Read With Me, helping the students, our future, be the best they can be!”



Mary Liedl – Mountain Vista 

Mary Liedl was looking for volunteer opportunities throughout the Coachella Valley when she saw an ad for Read with Me in the Desert Sun.  Mary says this has been a very rewarding opportunity for her.   Her biggest pleasure when working with her students it to see them become excited being able to read.  Mary has enjoyed being a part of Read With Me and feels it has helped improve her life as well as the lives of her students.  Mary has volunteered at Mountain Vista during Summer School, the After School program and during the day in the classroom sessions.   

Mary is also active volunteering with a local food bank that assists with food insecurities and feeding the homeless, and she telephones Seniors who are housebound or in need of companionship.

Jeannie and Jim Morris – Saul Martinez 

Jeannie and Jim Morris have been volunteering at Saul Martinez since Read With Me started there 8 years ago. Together they have spent more than 500 hours tutoring in the classroom during that time.


Jeannie, who volunteers in a 4th grade class, says “many times I am learning something new right along with my students!  That is always a surprise to them!  Reading is the key to their success in school and in life, and I am so blessed to be able to help them start to turn that key!”


Jim volunteers in the 3rd grade, and the word wonderful seems to sum up his feelings about working with his students.  He says that “it is wonderful to see the smile on the kids’ faces when they understand a new word or fact… wonderful to hear them say hello at the beginning of class…wonderful to see them help each other…and wonderful to work with students who truly want to learn.”  


Both Jeannie and Jim express that it is an honor to be a part of the Read With Me Program!




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