Lakewood Ranch’s Hilary Lipman was ready for her weekly Zoom call Feb. 11.
She logged in to see Elijah Betancourt, a second grader at James Tillman Elementary School, pop up on her screen for their mentoring session.
Betancourt sent screenshots of the book “Spider-Man’s Worst Enemies” to Lipman, so she could follow along as he read to her.
Lipman has been working with Betancourt on his reading skills since October 2020 through the Books for Kids mentoring program.
The mentoring program is one of the ways Books for Kids has shifted gears during the pandemic to continue supporting students in the School District of Manatee County.
The school district hasn’t been allowing visitors on campus, so Books for Kids volunteers haven’t been able to go into the classrooms to read and discuss books with students before distributing a book to each student.
“We miss desperately going into classrooms,” said Ted Lindenberg, the director of Books for Kids. “We miss that closeness. We miss the relationships.”
Before the pandemic, there were 150 volunteers going into 150 first, second and third grade classrooms across nine schools within the school district.
Lindenberg said the organization has found ways to compensate for not being able to physically be in the classrooms, including dropping off books outside the front doors of the schools, distributing books during SOAR in 4 events and developing a mentoring program between Books for Kids and students in the district.
SOAR in 4 is a program that focuses on ensuring children have the opportunities and support needed to succeed in school.
Books for Kids has been distributing 3,000 books per month to 3,000 children.
Lindenberg said the organization started the virtual mentoring program to reach out individually to children.
More than 30 volunteers work with about 30 students one on one to assist with reinforcing vocabulary and common words as well as to listen to children read.
Lipman has been a volunteer for Books for Kids for the past two and a half years and would go to Ballard Elementary School to read and distribute books.
She wanted to be a part of the virtual mentoring program to give someone the “gift of reading.”
“It is such an important foundation for learning any subject,” Lipman said. “It’s something I’m passionate about, and it brings me a lot of joy. The biggest thing I miss about not being in person is the excitement on kids’ faces.”
Lipman has enjoyed getting to know an individual student better because she can spend more time with the student. She learns about the student’s family and what the student likes or dislikes.
Since Lipman has started working with Betancourt, she’s noticed he is wanting to challenge himself by trying to read more difficult books.
“He has a little more confidence in himself,” Lipman said.