“I’m probably a journalist today because of a book I read when I was 6 years old,” said “Good Morning America’s” Ron Claiborne this morning at Camp Curtin Middle School.
That book, he said, was “Freddy and the Bean Home News” from the “Freddy the Pig” series.
Claiborne helped to open the weeklong “500 Men Reading Week and Career Exploration” event, which kicked off today in the Harrisburg area.
The American Literacy Corp, (ALC) has held this event for 17 years. More than 500 men will read and participate in career awareness in 20 schools in four different school districts this week: Harrisburg, West Shore, Susquehanna and Steelton-Highspire.
Local author and ALC founder Floyd Stokes said he began the event “because I love reading to kids, and I figured that others would enjoy it, too.” He also wanted “to expose kids to men who enjoy reading and value education.”
The readers themselves echoed Stokes’ sentiments and expressed a few reasons of their own.
“Law enforcement is more than lockin’ up the bad guys,” said Harrisburg police Sgt. Russell Winder.
As a child, he said, his mother and aunts read him “everything from Dr. Seuss to the Bible.”
Chatting with Winder was Calvin Hynson. Hynson said he began reading for the group in the beginning, when it was the “100 Men Reading Week.” He said he participated “because you love kids and we men need to give back.”
Both Hynson and Winder served in Operation Desert Storm, and they said that today’s event was another way for them to serve the community.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse was also on hand, continuing a decade-long commitment to the event. He planned to read Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart” to middle-schoolers.
“This is one of my favorite events,” he said.
There were some newbie readers in the group, as well. Robert Jenkins said that he was reading for the first time.
“I’m just trying to give back, trying to inspire the youth coming up,” he said. “Trying to do my part.”
“The Cat in the Hat” and other Dr. Seuss books were his favorites growing up, he said.
Like Jenkins, other men were happy to share their favorite childhood reads. For Winder, it was “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!”; for Stokes, “Animal Farm”; for Hynson “Cat in the Hat”; and, for Claiborne, “Charlotte’s Web,” which he’ll read later in the day.
Some young people joined in, too. Austin Assoko and a few of his classmates from Carson Long Military Academy volunteered to read.
“Volunteerism and community service are the things that get me up in the morning,” Assoko said.
What purpose does all this reading serve?
“It’s not just about literacy. It’s about what it can do to prepare you for life,” said Gary D. St. Hilaire, president and CEO of Capital BlueCross and honorary chair of this year’s read.
He added that “Froggy Gets Dressed” was his children’s book of choice, but that reading was as much about time spent together as the books themselves.
Jamar Johnson, co-coordinator of the week, said he began reading for the event in 2009 and that the students “were excited to have me read to them.” Johnson also said that “there were a lack of men in schools and neighborhoods” and this event demonstrated a collective effort to show that men care about today’s children and youth.
Ultimately, “500 Men Reading Week and Career Awareness” wants to encourage a new generation of readers and leaders. Claiborne said.
“A single book, like a single teacher, can change your life,” he said.