There is a simple formula for judging the impact a person has had on her community: What did she set out to do? How did she implement her plan? What did her plan achieve?
Roberta Klein set out in 2004 to do something unheard of: use mostly retired women and men to help kids from Spanish-speaking families improve their ability to learn in English and thus learn.
Starting with a single school, Mecca Elementary – deep in Coachella Valley’s agricultural region-- Roberta recruited volunteers from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, arranged to have them transported by a school bus two days a week, sit at desks, open books, and read with kids from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.
That one church and one-school relationship grew so that today more than 500 volunteers from eight churches, civic groups, and a country club connect with almost 10,000 students in 17 elementary schools in the Coachella Valley and two in Reno, Nevada, on a twice-a-week basis.
In addition, Read With Me will distribute 35,000 new books to each student by the end of this school term.
From 2004 until 2014 she operated virtually by herself with support from her husband, Clay.
Building on the Mecca School success, she worked with Coachella Valley Unified School District leaders to expand to other schools while at the same time recruiting more churches to sponsor Read With Me and make volunteer opportunities available to their parishioners.
She developed a management system that put volunteer coordinators in charge of each school’s volunteer corps.
As part of the expansion, she developed a training program for volunteers and raised money to fund the program, including paying part of the costs of bus transportation and managed every detail of the day-to-day operations.
By 2014, the program was secure enough to hire a single administrative assistant.
The aggregate numbers describe how impactful the Read With Me program has been. Since 2004, almost 5,000 volunteers have worked with more than 98,000 elementary school students. In addition, the program raised $3.7 million to, among other things, purchase 269,000 new books that the kids took home.
Most importantly, participation in the program translated into success for the kids. Students who participated in the tutoring program scored substantially higher on their annual test and the graduation rate improved by more than 30 percent.
And while the program is focused on reading, a great additional benefit accrued for the volunteers. Almost to a person, volunteers – many of whom have been with the program for a decade or more – report they get more out of participating than the kids.
All of these accomplishments are the result of Roberta Klein’s creativity and sense of purpose and commitment to Coachella Valley communities and their kids.