JFS Perspectives

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Volunteer Brings Love of Reading to Group Home Residents

Volunteer Brings Love of Reading to Group Home Residents

Longtime volunteer Evan Silverman was looking for a new way to get involved with JFS last year. He came up with a creative program that pairs his love of reading and desire to connect with people with disabilities. In this blog post, Evan tells us how the JFS Group Home Reading Club was born! The JFS Group Home offers a warm, caring residential environment and skilled supervision for adult residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

JFS: How did this volunteer opportunity come about?

Evan Silverman (ES): I have been a JFS volunteer since 2008 and have done a variety of activities with the organization, including volunteering in the food pantry, serving lunches through Lunchbox Express, tutoring a refugee from Eritrea, doing office work, and more. I was away from my job at the Tattered Cover Bookstore for extended periods of time in 2015 and 2016. In the spring of 2016 I felt like I was almost ready to return to the store, but I needed a bridge in the form of additional types of volunteer work. I contacted Nancy Benyamin, JFS director of Volunteer Services, and told her I was looking for new opportunities.

I expressed an interest in getting connected with the JFS Group Home and an idea of reading to the residents. Nancy and I met with the group home manager Taylor Rutherford to pitch the idea. Taylor wasn’t sure at the time if the residents would be interested, but we decided to give it a shot. We experimented with different amounts of time and found that 45 minutes twice per month works well for everyone. I’ve been volunteering there for more than a year now and it’s been quite successful! I read a variety of books with the three to five residents who attend each time.

JFS: How do you choose the books you read to the residents?

Evan reading at JFS Group HomeES: Before my first visit last year, I consulted with a coworker at the Tattered Cover to get some suggestions. One recommendation that sticks out is a book on folk tales and fables. These books are great for all ages, as they can be understood on many levels. I usually bring a joke book since laughter is very important and some of the residents like to read jokes.

The last five minutes of the Reading Club is feedback time and I solicit book requests for next time. As you might imagine, the requests run the gamut. Some examples include books on trombones, beavers, dogs and cats, artists like Da Vinci, and the Tony Awards.

I then take my list to the Denver Public Library and get great help from the librarians in the children's section. I try to be mindful that the folks I read with are not children and that factors into my choices. I look for books which have some amount of text and good pictures.

JFS: What do you like most about this volunteer opportunity and what keeps you coming back every month?

ES: I enjoy being in the moment with the group and there are minimal distractions. I keep doing it partly because I feel I am making at least a small contribution and improvement to their lives. I feel there is mutual respect with the residents and that feels good. It is an honor to be a part of both the JFS Group Home and the larger JFS community!

Evan receives high praise about the program:

Evan reading with Group Home residents

Nancy Benyamin says, “Evan took an idea and developed it to fit the residents’ interests. He’s right there with them in the activity. He asks for feedback and takes it. That’s why it’s successful. He does it from his heart, to benefit others, not to get something in return. His motivation is purely to read to the residents and create a special time for them. Evan puts so much effort into this experience and has gone above and beyond!”

Taylor Rutherford, who is there during Reading Club, adds, “What I love the most about watching Evan interact with the residents is how he truly meets each of them at their own level. He asks for their feedback on books that he brings in to read and asks them what type of books they want him to bring in. If an individual is unable to read, he will bring in stories about topics they like. I also like that he always does ‘ice breakers’ to get to know the residents better and have them think about new things.”

And perhaps the most important feedback came from one of the residents, Laurie, who commented, "That reading club is really good!"

Thank you, Evan, for your continued dedication to JFS and your initiative to create this wonderful program!