Mill Creek’s Donna Kirkman always had struggled to get her 9-year-old daughter, Carson, excited about reading.
Then the pair headed to the Lakewood Ranch YMCA’s summer camp program, where Kirkman is working as assistant camp director.
In partnership with The Patterson Foundation in Sarasota and its Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiative, the Manatee YMCA is incorporating daily reading during summer camp at its three branch locations. At the Lakewood Ranch YMCA, children read 25 minutes each day and earn a solid-colored rubber bracelet with the words “Reading is the Key to Succeeding” for every book they read.
“The first week, I got nine bracelets,” Carson said, holding a copy of “Ghosts” by Raina Telgemeier in her hands. “I was the only person who got that many.”
The quest for bracelets became so popular the Patterson Foundation purchased a special rainbow-colored bracelet for children who read at least 20 books during 81 summer camps in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties. As of July 15, they had distributed 81,812 bracelets.
Heather Koester, the consultant for the Patterson Foundation reading initiative, said the Suncoast Summer Book Challenge includes 6,000 children in those 81 camps. Initiative representatives met with camp directors in April to showcase ideas to incorporate reading into its programming.
“We have funding available to foster and encourage a love of reading,” Koester said.
YMCA counselor Bryan Stark said children encourage each other to read and compete for bracelets.
“These kids are pushing each other and themselves to go farther,” Stark said.
Children said they liked the change of pace, as well.
Although Robert E. Willis Elementary’s Noah Ladensack, 8, would have preferred playing sports or other activities, he didn’t mind reading “Superman Alliance of Heroes.” He likes mystery books, in particular.
“I think it will help with school,” he said.
Nine-year-old Gabby Zevallos, a student at Braden River Elementary, is focused on earning her rainbow bracelet. She has been attending the YMCA’s summer camp program since she was 5. Although she likes playing games, she said reading is fun, too.
“I like that we’re reading and it’s quiet,” Gabby said. “I hope we do it again next year.”