Eight part-time coordinators for the Start Making a Reader Today program on the South Coast won’t be taking home paychecks in the 2008-09 school year.
The organization is changing their status from paid employee to volunteer.
The program pairs adults with children, in kindergarten through third grade, who need help improving their reading.
SMART Manager Iliana Montiel, who oversees the program at nine Coos and Curry county elementary schools and Highland Elementary School in Reedsport, is worried about what will come of the coordinators in the area. They are responsible for scheduling one-on-one reading, volunteer readers and the sites for reading sessions with children enrolled in the program.
“As of right now, I don’t know who is going to stay and who is going to leave,” Montiel said. “We don’t want to lose any of them. That’s our hope.”
Alyson Oliver, a part-time coordinator at Madison Elementary School in Coos Bay, where SMART serves 92 children, said she hasn’t heard of any coordinators saying they want to quit. Even though she said she can’t continue working the 26 to 30 hours without pay, still she plans to stay with the program in some capacity.
“I would be willing to take a 12-hour volunteer position,” she said, adding that the local chapters are doing everything in their power to come up with funding.
“I wouldn’t count this area out just yet,” Oliver said. “We’re creative. It’s a wonderful, wonderful foundation.”
SMART’s board of directors, strategic planning committee and executive staff reached the decision to restructure in April. It has functioned on a budget of about $4 million for the past five years and has served approximately 10,000 children in the state consistently each year, said Melissa Logan, public information officer at SMART’s headquarters in Portland.
Restructuring of SMART will mean 198 paid part-time coordinators statewide will become volunteers. The organization will cut its annual budget an estimated $1 million by fall 2009.
“For the past 5 years, our revenue has plateaued, and some foundations have suggested they can no longer fund SMART because it’s unusual to provide such long-term funding, despite how effective they know SMART to be,” Logan said.
The organization estimates 50,000 Oregon children could benefit from the one-on-one attention provided by SMART.
“As we adjust to the change then hopefully we would be able to raise more funds to bring more kids into the program,” Logan said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure we’re reaching all the kids we should reach.”
The challenge will be convincing coordinators to work for free.
Logan said volunteers and employees at schools and members of community organizations are trying to find ways to raise funding, or come up with solutions such as splitting coordinator duties between two volunteers.
“We want to make sure (SMART) stays around in the future,” Logan said.
Blossom Gulch Elementary School’s coordinator Margot Hossley said she normally works 30 hours a week. With 77 volunteers and 102 children, she oversees one of the largest programs in the state.
Although she believes in the program, she said, “I think we’re all kind of in the same boat. I can’t work 30 hours a week. My family needs me to get paid.”
Funding also could be raised through grants. Past Coordinator Linda Piovesam is writing proposals for two grants — one to fund the coordinator’s salary at Blossom Gulch, and the other for the coordinators at the North Bend schools. The parent-teacher organizations would be in charge of dispersing the funds if grants are received.
Piovesam, president of a volunteer chapter that serves five area schools: Blossom Gulch, Bunker Hill and Madison elementary schools in Coos Bay; and Hillcrest and North Bay-Lighthouse elementary schools in North Bend, said the coordinator position is critical to the program.
“It’s a lot to ask someone to volunteer that amount of time and energy,” Piovesam said.
Fourteen volunteer chapters were formed statewide as part of restructuring. Locally, there already are two chapters, in the Bay Area and in Reedsport, with another chapter forming in Bandon. Members work to raise funds and recruit volunteers.
Children in the program receive one-on-one storytelling. They also take home new books each month to read and keep with their families.
Logan said it’s the results volunteers see in the children that brings them back each year.
“Kids stand taller, are more confident, by the end of the year,” Logan said. “It’s a pretty cool thing.”