OGDEN — Sometimes the mighty power in God’s hand can be seen in small and simple acts of service.
That seemed to be true last school year in a reading program in which about 60 members of the Washington Terrace East Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteered to tutor 80 students at Odyssey Elementary School.
There were 44 regular tutors who volunteered every week for the twice-weekly one-on-one sessions, and another 10 or 12 who volunteered as substitutes.
From the beginning, Kim Clarke, the literacy coordinator for the stake, said she could see the influence of a divine force when coming up with the schedule of volunteers for the Monday and Wednesday sessions.
She said most people could come on both days, but sometimes, “someone would call and say, ‘I can’t be there on Wednesday because I have to baby-sit my grandkids,’ and then someone would call and say they couldn’t come on Monday.” So those people would be matched up to have coverage for both days.
“It was kind of neat how things came together,” Clarke said.
She said the effort also brought the stake together as the tutors met others from different wards.
Included in the list of substitute tutors was Washington East Stake President Brent Lund and his wife, Midge, who attended almost every session, helping different children every time.
Lund said those who helped out enjoyed what they did.
“Every single person who volunteered, I met with personally,” he said. “It was a real highlight of their lives. It gave them an opportunity to get out and help the children.”
The effort was just one of several like it throughout Ogden and Weber County.
Lund said most stakes in the Ogden area have received assignments to work with different Title I schools.
And he said having members of the stake helping this particular student population was important.
“It gave them the opportunity to do service for members of our community who might not have service otherwise,” he said.
Lund said the school is 70 percent Hispanic and 100 percent in poverty.
“There is a real need there,” he said. “I know that’s why the church has felt like they could be involved with this. We didn’t do it for the church to get recognition. I know it was a quick way to get people to get involved because the church is so large here.”
Lund said he knows there are others outside his faith who could also contribute to the program, and he wants them to feel invited to participate as tutors.
“I know there are great people in this community who would be willing to go and help,” he said.
Debra Mitchell, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer who was assigned to oversee the program at Odyssey as well as another one at T.O. Smith Elementary School, said the LDS Church effort at those schools brought the reading tutor programs at these schools from nonexistent to viable.
“They’ve had STAR programs that have been hit-and-miss,” she said.
“The idea of bringing the church volunteers in is that they would be consistent. That’s what made it, that there would be tutors there week after week.”
Mitchell said the Washington Terrace LDS Stake effort made all the difference in the program’s success.
“In the records that we kept, almost every child we worked with increased in their timed reading and comprehension.”
The biggest aspect of this was that students met one on one with volunteers.
She said the difference in the students from the first of the year to the end was sometimes vast.
“We had some students in there that weren’t even reading,” she said of the beginning of the year. “They were reading by the end of the school year.”
And she said she saw other benefits in addition to improved reading skills.
“Just the fact that it was one on one seemed to increase (the students’) confidence in reading and their confidence in themselves,” she said.
Lund believes those who learned to read better will do better in all the other subjects they study in school.
“As we help these kids to learn how to read, they are more apt to do better in school and become better citizens of this country.”
For more information about volunteering as a reading tutor in a local school, call United Way of Northern Utah at 801-399-5584 or go to the website uwnu.org.
Call Odyssey Elementary School at 801-737-8400.