As a college student studying to become a doctor, junior biological sciences major Allison Ibarra was excited to begin volunteering at the Riverside Regional Medical Center, but was surprised when the head of the volunteer group told her that she needed to take a basic reading test before she could be placed in the hospital.
“She told me that she had to administer a basic reading exam to all the adult volunteers to gauge their reading level,” the Chino Hills native recalled. “It shocked me that adult literacy could be so low that this test was needed.”
It was shortly thereafter, in January 2012, that Ibarra and five other members of UCR’s American Medical Student Association (AMSA), using funding from the AMSA, founded the Literacy Project, designed to teach young people from disadvantaged backgrounds how to read and to promote the ability to read among young people.
“I noticed a stigma that has grown around reading for little children. Reading is associated with being uncool, nerdy, and socially awkward,” she said. “As an avid bookworm myself, I was appalled at this stigma and wanted to do something to help change it.”
Ibarra was also moved to act by data that linked low child literacy rates with impoverished areas. “I decided to make my stand to improve literacy in Riverside.” Ibarra’s desire to improve literacy is a direct example of Seizing Our Destiny’s focus on lifelong learning. By getting the student community to volunteer for this needed work, she’s also affecting the city’s vision of a unified city.
She spent a few months recruiting, organizing and training volunteers, and researched tips and techniques for teaching literacy to young people then began to work with young people. They raised funds to purchase stickers and small prizes as rewards for reaching reading milestones. Volunteers work with students on their grammar, reading comprehension and phonetics, but beyond that, they form a bond with the youngsters, becoming friends and mentors.