Hero volunteers help instill the love of reading in Wayne Township students

(WISH Photo/Laura Kennedy)
(WISH Photo/Laura Kennedy)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and their work might be very obvious, or often go unnoticed.

One education program in Wayne Township is full of heroes disguised as everyday citizens.

The title of the program HOSTS stands for “Helping One Student to Succeed.”

And the program wouldn’t function without volunteers.

Whether it’s listening to books being read aloud or teaching new vocabulary on flashcards, each week for eight years Ed Heckman has taken time to make a difference in the lives of children.

“They really grow in this activity. They love to come here, one of them even said it today, she said I love HOSTS,” Heckman said.

Ed is a HOSTS mentor, a reading program for Wayne Township 2nd and 3rd graders.

“These are the students who need just a little extra help, who don’t qualify for another program,” HOSTS lead teacher Tammy Butts said.

Volunteer mentors spend one hour each week working with two students.

They work with the same students the entire school year.

“They have one student for the first 30 minutes and then a second student for the next 30 minutes,” Butts said.

One-on-one reading help is something many students never experience.

“That comes out as you have discussions with them,” Heckman said, “If you ask them if they read before they go to bed, a lot of them say no, or they don’t read during the summer, those kind of things.”

In one year of HOSTS the kids improve an average of 4 to 5 reading levels.

That’s just one stat Butts said shows the value of the program.

“They’ve said you know before I went into HOSTS program, I hated to read, they said now I love to read,” she said.

The kids get to pick which book they read, which adds to the fun of the experience, and the money to buy the books has been donated.

Supplies are paid for by the Wayne Township Education Foundation.

But Tammy said it’s the 1000 volunteers like Ed who make this dream a reality.

“Our mentors are the heroes in this equation, without our mentors we would not have the HOSTS program,” she said.

“I don’t know about a hero. I think I’m a good volunteer,” Heckman said, “Heroes tend to save people from things, or I suppose we rescued them from some part of life. If they didn’t have this, where would they be later? And so from that aspect I’d say we all are heroes.”

After eight years of mentoring Ed has watched young kids grow into high schoolers who run for student council, lead school clubs, and become volunteers themselves.

“This whole thing of growth and leadership and self confidence it is very evident as you look at it over the long haul,” he said.

That’s the magic of the program, connecting strangers across generations for a short time to make a positive impact well into the future.

“You can see the growth, you can see the gains, and you know you made a difference in the child’s life,” Butts said.

If you would like details on becoming a HOSTS mentor click here.