One of the longest-running community partnerships just celebrated its 17th year at the Kennedy-Longfellow School. Lunch Buddies was founded 17 years ago in 1997 by Lisa Van Vleck from Cambridge School Volunteers
(CSV), Kenny Neal and Jennifer Phillips from what was then R.F. Kennedy School, and Lynn Murray from the Volpe Transportation Center
in Kendall Square. Volunteers from Volpe began coming to the Robert F. Kennedy school in 1997. Since then, over 439 Lunch Buddies come fall, winter, and spring, sometimes trudging through snow, sleet, and freezing cold to see their second and third-grade buddies so they can finish reading the story they began the week before, or to begin a new one. "They make us smile. They make us happy, and they are fun," said one third-grader. The kids look forward to their visit each week, and each year end is celebrated with a party.
CSV sponsors the read-aloud program based on strong research that supports the value of adults reading to young children. The concept was simple then, and is the key to its success: reading together builds a love of reading, and pairing an adult with a child over two years creates a personal connection. According to one teacher “a one-to-one reading experience with a caring adult gives children a chance to discuss books. Reading buddies help expand the children’s horizons.” Another says the strength of the program comes from “adult reading role models who demonstrate a passion for reading.” But the best testament to the value of the program comes from the children: “I like reading with him. I like when he helps me. He’s a ‘good fantastic’ reading buddy. He does everything right."
The program is called Lunch Buddies, since the volunteers do their reading during their lunch hour - per strict Federal rules about when volunteering can be performed. It is the original Reading Buddies program which spawned two others - Genzyme/FMA Reading Buddies, and Amigos dual language Reading Buddies/Lectores. The Volpe program serves two grades - second and third grade, so that some of the Buddies are able to be with their students for two years. Volunteer loyalty characterizes the Volpe program. 40 volunteers out of the total of 78 permanent Buddies and alternates have served 5 years or more; 21 have served 10 years or more. Several volunteers have received CSV's Mack Davis awards for extraordinary service.
The current program is coordinated by Maria McCarthy, a graduate of the Kennedy Elementary School. She is responsible for recruiting all the Buddies each year, setting up the matches and the schedule and, in general, overseeing the flow of the program.
A highlight of the Volpe program are the end-of-year parties. The grade 2 celebration is hosted by the Kennedy-Longfellow in the Longfellow Room; the grade 3 celebration at Volpe where students get to see a presentation about some of the research being done at the Volpe Center and have breakfast snacks on the 12th floor with their Buddies. At both celebrations, children receive gift books purchased by their Buddies.