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Partnership boosts literacy, builds motivation

Big Sister Ashley Richardson laughs with 9-year-old Katie Sinclair during a match meeting at the Cabarrus County Public Library in Concord.

The past several weeks have been busy for the 2018 Cabarrus
County Public Library Summer Reading Program. Among a slew of daily activities,
participants strummed guitars, competed in lip sync battles and panned for
gold, all while logging reading time and experiencing library offerings.  

Now heading into its last days, Libraries Rock! is also
inspiring participants in the Cabarrus Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

The partnership goal between the library and BBBS is simple:
to encourage and facilitate literacy. BBBS highlights the Summer Reading
Program as a destination for the usual weekly meetings of those in the program.

"Since libraries now go so much further than books to
promote literacy, it’s easy to spark curiosity and start a conversation about a
variety of topics that are found through programs, technology, craft projects and
other activities at the library," said Cabarrus County Public Library Director
Emery Ortiz, a Big Sister herself. "When
I see a child turn to their mentor and say 'I didn’t know you could do that!' with wide eyes and a smile, that lets me know the partnership is a success."

A perfect partnership

The collaboration began when Ortiz met with BBBS Cabarrus
Area Director Connie Rheinecker to discuss the best ways to issue library cards
for youth in the program.

It grew from there.

"Seeing children grow through literacy and learning is the
reason I became a librarian," Ortiz said. "So being involved with this
mentorship program, and having the opportunity to do that both one-on-one and through
organizational partnerships, is very special. Nothing changes a child’s life
more than positive reinforcement and encouragement from adults letting them
know that it’s OK to learn, it’s OK to question and that they’re capable of
doing great things just by being themselves."

In addition to featuring Summer Reading as a destination for
Bigs and Littles, BBBS is holding a summer reading program contest calling for
participants to send a photo of them reading in a variety of locations,
including the library. This month, an extra prize is awarded for youth who
write a one- to two-paragraph review of their favorite book. 

Cultivating a shared love of reading among the Bigs and
Littles "can create bonds that last long beyond a specific book," Rheinecker
said.

Encouraging hopes and
dreams

Participants in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program look at books during a luncheon with mentors recently at Atrium Health NorthEast in Concord.

BBBS serves youth between the ages of 6 and 18. Participants
often come from teacher recommendations or parent inquiries.

"Children who participate in our program have a potential to
achieve success, but there are often obstacles in the way that can be tough to
overcome," Rheinecker said. "Having a consistent Big Brother or Big Sister to turn to for support improves their self-esteem and often broadens their view of what they can
achieve. We felt it was important to encourage summer
reading with our Littles. Partnering with the library to help them and their
parents obtain library cards was a key to overcoming some obstacles. 

"Cabarrus County Libraries have fantastic
programming and resources that open kids' minds and easily motivate them to
read. Books are one way for kids to have adventures and dream of their future
success."

The library partnership is one of a number of collaborations
cultivated by BBBS of Central Carolinas Cabarrus County. The organization
offers a workplace mentoring program in conjunction with Atrium Health
NorthEast and Cabarrus County Schools, and a one-to-one mentoring program
called Bigs in Blue that connects local law enforcement officers with youth in
the program.

In fiscal year 2018, the organization served 233 children,
up from the 170 they served the prior year, Rheinecker said. Two years before
that, the total was 103. Currently 30 children are registered and waiting for a
match, while an estimated 5,000 Cabarrus youth would qualify for the program.

It’s clear the need for mentors is tremendous.

"Go for it," Ortiz said when asked what advice she would
have for someone considering becoming a Big. "Even if you’re busy and have a
family, the program has several ways to serve, so it is absolutely worth
exploring and so rewarding to experience."

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