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August 16, 2023

Why volunteering isn’t just important, it’s essential

The last few years have brought waves of change that many of us may not have been sure we can handle. From our daily lives being put on pause, to a potential major loss, to a new way of living together, the pandemic challenged us in ways we didn’t think possible. Many of us are still facing the repercussions of COVID-19 in our homes, schools, and communities. One way to heal is by serving others. For the overall well-being of our communities, volunteering isn’t just important, it’s essential. 

The community challenge

For those serving, volunteering, and working within our communities, the obstacles created and exacerbated by COVID-19 are nothing short of glaring. Inside and outside of school, students are facing challenges that can impact their learning and achievement. For example, students may be dealing with food scarcity, access to school, and other basic safety needs that can influence their academic performance. All of these different influencing factors are widening the opportunity gap for students throughout the country.

a tutor-student pair sit at a table with books open in front of them

The impact of the opportunity gap

The opportunity gap describes the gap in resources, support, and access between different groups of individuals. Often, communities and schools that are predominately white and/or wealthy tend to have more opportunities and access to high-quality learning than communities that are predominately made up of people of color and/or lower on the socioeconomic scale. 

Essentially, it’s the way that uncontrollable life factors like race, language, economic, and family situations can contribute to lower rates of success in educational achievement, career prospects, and other life aspirations. But it’s not hopeless; we have a shot at turning things around. We can help close this gap in our schools by providing equitable resources and programming to those who need it most. Ensuring students have the skills and resources they need to succeed with foundational reading skills is one of the greatest ways we can empower our communities. When students grow and learn, communities thrive. 

volunteering isn't just important, it's essential; tutor holding up a sign that says "I tutor because kids should enjoy reading!"

How we can help close the gap

There is much that needs to be accomplished to truly close the opportunity gap. For starters, we need to increase culturally responsive teaching practices, expand access to resources and technology, and provide enriching learning opportunities to students who don’t currently have them. As a community, we can each find our own ways to make an impact and as we go, we can grow together. 

In our communities, there are some deeply committed and caring individuals who are dedicated to creating change and empowering those around them. At Reading Partners, our volunteer tutors take action and make a huge impact in their communities by volunteering just an hour a week. These caring people with lots of love for those around them are the ones that get things done and help bring equity to their communities. 

Our students are at the heart of everything we do here at Reading Partners. We know that the ability to read transforms and empowers students and communities. Every one of us has a part in closing the opportunity gap and we have amazing people from our communities stepping up every day to support us with just that. Without the support of our amazing volunteers, there would be no way we could work with as many students as we do. 

several tutor-student pairs sit in a classroom, practicing their literacy skills

Volunteering is essential

Volunteers are advocates and problem solvers in the community of their own volition. They see a need, they fill it. It is because of our volunteers that we continue to exist and support our students on their journeys to becoming lifelong learners. Because of this, our work with students impacts them beyond the classroom and our time of service. 

When community members commit to volunteering, we see their impact almost immediately: students grow in their confidence, reach their literacy goals, and unlock their full potential. At the same time, the volunteer’s connection to their student and overall mental health can grow as well. There is a ripple effect and each volunteer gets to engage in that adventure.

While there is still so much change and challenge occurring around us, let’s hold a safe space together for positivity, learning, and growth. We all have a part to play in what happens within and around our communities. Consider your essential part in the community and find a place to plug in to help create change. Our hope is to cause enough ripple effects that help to close the opportunity gap with every action we take. Let’s be empowered in action together for our community!

If you’d like to volunteer for Reading Partners, please click here to sign up in your region.

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