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United We Read: The Power of Shared Language

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

All summer, volunteers read to groups of kids and teens across our communities to share in the power of literature. The kids weren't the only ones who gained valuable experiences along the way.

By Karla Tellez, Patriot Federal Credit Union

Summer camp is a time for fun, friendship, and growth. It’s a place where kids can explore new activities, create lasting memories, and learn valuable life lessons. As a volunteer in the United We Read Program, I had the incredible opportunity to share the magic of literature with a group of young minds at the NETwork Ministries summer camp. Our chosen book, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, not only entertained the kids but also opened doors to meaningful discussions and personal growth.

There’s something so important about the power of books – they transport us to new places, introduce us to fascinating characters, and help us experience emotions we might not encounter otherwise. Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya is a heartwarming story that follows a young boy on a journey of self-discovery, exploring the themes of identity, family, and belonging.

Through this book, we aimed to not only ignite the kids’ love for reading, but also provide them with a platform to explore their own identities and connect with diverse perspectives.

As a volunteer, my role wasn’t just about reading the book – it was about creating a safe and welcoming space for the kids to express themselves, ask questions, and engage in meaningful conversations. During each of the sessions, we encouraged the children to share their thoughts and experiences related to the themes of the book.

The book delves into the protagonist’s struggle with his cultural identity, as well as his journey to understand and embrace it. These themes resonated with the kids on a personal level, as many of them were navigating similar questions about who they are and where they come from.

During one of our reading sessions, as the story unfolded, there came a sentence in Spanish. As a native Spanish speaker, I couldn’t help but read the sentence in the language it was written. Little did I expect the reaction it would trigger among the kids. The moment my Spanish pronunciation reached their ears, their faces lit up. Their excitement was palpable as they exchanged wide-eye glances.

My simple act of reading a single sentence in Spanish seemed to break down an invisible barrier that had been separating us. The kids suddenly saw me as more than just a volunteer reading through a book. I became a bridge, connecting them to the story in a new, personal way. They began asking me questions about my life, my background, and my experiences, as someone “like them."

It was heartwarming to see how our shared language allowed them to open up and express themselves more freely, creating a space for them to learn and connect.

While the program only lasted for a few weeks, the impact of the United We Read Program will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression. By exposing the kids to the joy of reading, we hope to have instilled a love for books, bridged the summer learning gap, and celebrated diversity. Whether they become avid readers, confident communicators, or compassionate individuals, the seeds we planted through our reading sessions are sure to bear fruit.

This summer, I learned that sometimes, all it takes is a few words in your native tongue to open doors to understanding, empathy, and personal connections.

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