Lawyers Giving Back: Barrister book buddies

In the corner of an elementary school library, a student slides her small index finger over three words printed below a black-and-white illustration on a page of a book.

Slowly, gutturally, enthusiastically, she utters The. Duck. Go.

At a nearby table, three of her classmates crowd around a single pile of flashcards calling out the words this! and fish!

Its Thursday afternoon at Michigan Technical Academys K-2 campus, and the Reading Buddies from the Farmington Hills law firm of Kaufman, Payton & Chapa are making their weekly visit to the Detroit charter school.

Office administrator Linda Nickerson, whose goddaughter Danielle Eller is a first-year teacher at the school, explains that the firm initially collected coats, shoes and socks for the students during the holidays. Several employees learned how to knit over their lunch breaks and sent some 20 homemade scarves for the students.

When they arrived to drop off the donations, Nickerson recalls, We all looked at each other, we all had tears in our eyes, and we said, We cant just let this go. This cant just be a hit-and-run.

The Reading Buddies program was launched soon after, pairing one to three students with a volunteer from the law firm or its sister company, insurance agency Burns & Wilcox. The volunteers spend their Thursday lunch breaks reading to their students, having their students read to them, and working on flashcards to help improve student skills.

These kids are great and theyre really excited to see us coming, and thats the best part, says Nickerson, who takes her two reading buddies new books each week so they can practice their reading at home.

They make time for it because they think its important, Nickerson says of the 30 volunteers who give close to 50 students the opportunity to work on their reading one-on-one with a tutor, asking, Doesnt everybody have an hour a week? to donate.

In addition to the Reading Buddies program, the firm collected 252 boxes of 64-count Crayons, enough to provide each student with his or her own box, shortly after the holidays and is planning to collect backpacks filled with school supplies for the back-to-school season.

This is really a wonderful program, says attorney Catherine Patterson. The kids are getting better and better and its so great to be a part of their little lives.

Samantha Orvis, a second-year law student at Wayne State University, will be the firms summer associate and already has been involved with the program for close to two months. Shes working to bring her classmates on board as well.

Theyve really shown progress as far as their ability to concentrate, as well as their excitement for reading, she says.

But what may be even more important than the donations and the reading time is the example the attorneys are setting for the students. Principal Sue Soborowski says its especially influential for boys to see men in suits looking professional coming in to volunteer.

Its just a wonderful demonstration of people showing they care and giving back to their community, Soborowski says.

By Taryn Hartman.

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