Who is United Way? I’ve just introduced you to Brandon Halleck, a man who works for Chances and Services for Youth (CASY) and a man who loves to read. He loves reading so much that it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I ask him what his favorite project has been thus far.
“I thoroughly enjoy this. I participated since the beginning in the Real Men Read program, and I thoroughly enjoy going in and reading to the kindergarten students. Obviously, I work around kids. I’m used to being around kids. I love kids, but I do think in someway being able to give them their own books and start their own home library and starting to instill that reading is good, reading is fun, reading enhances your ability to learn. Just the brain growth development, I think that’s important. I get the whole purpose behind the men because I get that some of these kids don’t have positive men in their lives or that they see in a positive aspect.”
Real Men Read and Read United! are awesome programs in the Wabash Valley that take storytime to a new level. It’s one thing to go into a classroom, kindergarten or preschool, and read, but these people go into the same classroom once a month for five months. The kids get to know their mentors and appreciate their presence in their lives.
Real Men Read is a program that has, well, men read. They read to kindergarteners specifically throughout the community. Read United! is a program for both men and women to go around to different preschools and read that started up just this past year. These programs started in 2011 and went on throughout the school year. Brandon has been there since the beginning soaking up how he isn’t just entertaining the kids; they are entertaining him too.
“I love (their) imaginations. I’d be reading along, and I’d ask them would you like to have a pet dragon? No, I would never have a pet dragon. Yes, I would love to have a pet dragon. Just to see their imagination and see them light up when you’re reading those stories. They are so engaged. It makes it so much fun. I don’t care if they get a little wild and rambunctious because they get excited. That’s fine with me. I think that’s perfectly fine. The kids, they’re enjoying. So, I would say, sometimes, with those stories we do get off on some tangents, sometimes. We’re talking about snowballs and these kids talk about the last time they fell in the snow or the last snowball fight they had. Finally, I have to say, ‘Ok kids I do have to finish the story.”
When the mentors are done reading their book to the class its not the end. The kids get to take those books home. Each kid has the book that was read in their classroom given to them, and they get to start their own library or encourage their parents to read it again. During the 2018-2019 school year, almost 2,200 kids were read to, and over 11,000 books were given away, and that’s just in the Real Men Read program. Read United! added another 305 kids with 1,500 books to that amazing effort with only 20 additional volunteers. Brandon was among 110 amazing Real Men Read volunteers across the Wabash Valley to bring this experience to the classroom.
Brandon is completely relaxed in his chair. Speaking to others is natural to him, especially when it’s speaking about two of his favorite subjects: kids, and reading. He is leaning back with one arm over the chair and smiling ear to ear as he recalls his stories of Real Men Read.
I ask him my final question.
“What is United Way to you?”
“United Way to me is almost like a convener of like-minded individuals. They truly are that group that helps promote and collaborates and really tries to get folks involved in the community. They are a phenomenal collaborator. That’s what I see in the United Way.”
After hearing all about the Real Men Read program, I have to say I agree with him. Terre Haute is one of the largest “cities” in the Wabash Valley. Among six counties that are primarily rural communities, finding 110 volunteers to commit to something over the course of five months is truly amazing.
Sometimes great projects come in small sizes, though, and are done by people the community recognize. Brandon, Kristi, and Richard always make an impact, but very few people know about them. Next week I’ll introduce you to a different side of a man who has worked long and hard for the safety and progress of our community. He’s strong and quiet until you find what makes him tick. I think I did.