Reading program benefits migrant families
BY ERIN ALBANESE
The Lakeshore Press
But it wasn't long before the 6-year-old took over, carefully reading each word of the children's book. At Aidee's side, her 4-year-old sister, Adith, listened and turned through pages of storybook after storybook. The sisters were among about a dozen children who sat down on blankets or wandered over to hear stories outside of Pine Acres Apartments, a migrant camp at New Holland Drive and 136th Avenue.
Volunteers visit Pine Acres on Thursday evenings and the Quincy Apartments, at Quincy Street and 136th Avenue, on Tuesday evenings through the Lakeshore Ethic Diversity Alliance's new migrant summer reading program.
Participants read from books in English and Spanish.
It gives us a way to reach children who might not otherwise have much opportunity for story time with adults, said Jessenia Martinez Olmeda, reading program caseworker.
The program, which started this month, runs through Aug. 20.
The alliance has offered a migrant mentoring program for children age 6 and older for 11 years. The reading program targets younger children, age 5 and younger.
It isn't hard for Martinez Olmeda, 21, to round up participants for the program at Pine Acres.
She spent time living at the camp until she was a high school junior. She knows many families who work for Zelenka Nursery.
Martinez Olmeda said migrant children face the challenges of language barriers, parents working long hours and transitioning between two regions. As a child, Martinez Olmeda spent part of the year attending West Ottawa schools until snow fell, when her family headed to Texas.
"For me, it was very difficult," said Martinez Olmeda, a Hope College senior studying education.
She said her parents often worked late and were exhausted.
"They lacked the knowledge that it was essential to read to me," said Martinez Olmeda, who reads daily to her 8-month-old daughter, Delyla.
The reading program is funded by grants from the Frey Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Greater Ottawa County United Way.
Though children younger than 5 are targeted, older children can take part.
The kids spend about 30 minutes listening to stories, then munch granola bars. They also play games such as duck, duck, goose and tag.
More than 12,000 migrant and seasonal farmers and their families live in Ottawa County, the largest migrant population in the state, said Sarah Salguera, an alliance program director.
"Reading is a really critical component, and very important for this population," she said.