For Kaylee Hackley, reading can be an out-of-body experience.
“Reading inspires me,” she said over a dish of ice cream last week. “When I read, it’s kind of like my mind goes into the paper.”
Hackley, a 7-year-old participant in the summer enrichment program at the Friendship House of Christian Service in Billings’ South Side, was the champion reader during REadCYCLE, a literacy project run in partnership with the Youth Volunteer Corps. The program served 75 children in grades K-6 and had help from Youth Volunteer Corps students ages 11-18.
The readers, who polished off 374 donated books over the summer, were rewarded with ice cream sundaes Thursday afternoon at Friendship House, 3124 8th Ave. S., which has been serving Billings children and their families since 1957.
“I like going to stuff like this,” said Adam Kelsey, a 12-year-old eighth-grader at Lewis and Clark Middle School and one of three Youth Volunteer Corps members to scoop ice cream into bowls and adding the reader’s topping of choice. “It helps the community, and it’s fun. We’ve read with kids and we’ve done other activities with them, too.”
Those activities include swimming and horseback riding.
Area churches and CHS Inc. of Billings donated the books for the program; the company sprang for the ice cream as well.
Youth Volunteer Corps is a program of United Way of Yellowstone County, said Kayla Sather, who runs the program and joined the teen volunteers to serve ice cream to readers last week. The teens held a book drive and kicked off the program at Friendship House this summer with “two days of fun, literacy-related classroom activities,” said Kate Olp, student services coordinator at Friendship House.
Friendship House students “threw themselves enthusiastically” into the two-month reading program, Olp said. Each time a book was completed, the student was allowed to take the book home and select a new one to read.
Olp and teachers at Friendship House, including Hackley's mother, Jennifer, spent time with readers after each book to find out what they liked about the book and how well they understood what they’d read.
Hackley, a life skills teacher at Washington Elementary School, said the reading proficiency program works to help prevent students from falling behind once school begins following the 13 summertime weeks of vacation.
Rocco Sharp, an 8-year-old third-grader at Orchard Elementary School, said he derived at least two benefits from spending his summer with a book in his hands. With a total of 13 books, Sharp finished second to Hackley’s winning total.
“You can get ice cream” from reading books, he noted, “and you can learn a lot about building stuff.” Sharp said his favorite book was a Minecraft instructional guide that detailed building techniques for the popular computer game.
After Olp presented a thank-you card signed by all the readers to Sather and her three volunteers, students clapped for each other’s summertime reading achievements. Turning to a poster behind her that featured a scoop of ice cream for every book read, Sather looked impressed.
“You’ve been reading a lot this summer,” she said.