Reading with Friends inspires children and parents to read


 For Chrissy Henderson, owner of Golden Rules Preschool, the Sisters of St. Joseph are a literal godsend to the Concordia community.
 “We are so blessed to have [the Sisters] here,” Henderson said. “They see a need for something and they create the solution.”
 One area the Sisters saw a need for was in reading and development. So, as Henderson said, they created a solution: Reading with Friends.
 Henderson, a working mother of three–two boys, ages six and eight, and one baby girl, 3-weeks old–  started attending the mother's group at Neighbor to Neighbor almost six years ago. When the Sisters at Neighbor to Neighbor announced that they would begin a “Reading with Leaders” program, as it was originally called, Henderson said that taking her kids to the program was a no brainer.
 “They get a free book. They get to play with other kids. They get to be read to, which is so good for their brain and development, and I get to have coffee and donuts with my friends. It totally made sense to go to it,” Henderson said.
 Now that her boys are in school full time, Henderson said that she brings her preschool class.
 The Reading with Friends program at Neighbor to Neighbor has limited space and a little over 30 kids get to enjoy the activity. Henderson brings 12 of her preschool kids to be read to.
 Although the 30 slots tend to fill up fast, Henderson said that she has never had any trouble, because “as soon as the email is sent out, I reply! I don't want to take the chance of not getting in,” Henderson said.
 The Reading with Friends program is wildly successful. Children, parents and caregivers all look forward to reading, playing and socializing with one another the second Friday of each month.
 On October 9, Reading with Friends will present “Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type,” written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin.
 Sister Pat McLennon, co-director of Neighbor to Neighbor, said that they have found the perfect person to read this Friday's story.
 Connie Palacio, a former teacher, will be the reader for Friday. Palacio is a full-time volunteer for the Sisters of St. Joseph. McLennon said Palacio will be using a very old typewriter – owned by the Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph's Communications Director, Sarah Jenkins – during the story to highlight the “Cows That Type” aspect of animals writing their complaints to the farmer.
 McLennon says that Neighbor to Neighbor carefully selects each person who will be presenting the story during the Reading with Friends program. “We choose people who are interested in the value of storytelling and story reading.”
 McLennon said she wants the readers to encourage the children to really get into the story.
 One year, Henderson said that the Reading with Friends program presented the children with a fire truck book. And who would be the best person to read a book about a fire truck? A fireman, of course, accompanied by his trusty firehouse dog, Sparky. Henderson said that her six-year-old son still asks her to read the book to him.
 Parents often tell McLennon that their children ask to have the stories read to them again and again, which is the whole point, as the Sisters encourage children to read, but also encourage parents to read to their children.
 At the end of the Reading with Friends session, each child receives the book that they just experienced.
 For McLennon, being able to give the children the books is one of her favorite parts.
 “Especially right now with everything on computer, it's nice that these kids get the experience of a book. There may be a time when they won't have that experience. It's just wonderful for them to be able to feel a book and see the artwork. Most of these children's books have artwork that is as valuable as the story.”
 McLennon said that this year, the children will receive both hardback and paperback books.
 In order to fund the Neighbor to Neighbor reading initiative, the Sisters and their Developmental Director Holly Brown have applied for a variety of grants. This year, McLennon said that the program is funded by the Cloud County Attorney's Diversion Fund as well as the Dane G. Hansen Fund, which is through the Community Foundation for Cloud County.
 McLennon and Myrna Shelton choose the books for Reading with Friends. There isn't a magic formula that they follow; the two women simply check out dozens of books from the Frank Carlson Library and pour over each one, trying to find something perfect for the three- to five-year-olds who attend.
 As the children bound upstairs to begin their reading adventure, parents and guardians retreat downstairs for coffee and donuts. Henderson said that mothers are encouraged to be downstairs, to relax and enjoy a few minutes to themselves.
 “My kids love the Sisters, and so do I,” Henderson said. “They have done just so much for the community. I think the best part about them, when you meet them is that they are so nonjudgmental. You could come in filthy, with six kids on your hip, all of them with snotty noses, and the Sisters would just be so warm and welcoming.”
 Henderson already has plans to take her three-week baby girl to Neighbor to Neighbor for Reading with Friends. In fact, she said, she's counting on it.
 Reading with Friends is scheduled for the second Friday of each month, including a session this Friday, October 9, as well as November 13, December 11, January 8, 2016, February 12, March 11, April 8 and May 13.
 To reserve your spot for the November 13 reading, call Neighbor to Neighbor at (785) 262-4215 or email them at


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