If you're an attorney in town, chances are you've received an invitation from Chris Ward to show up at a local school to read to a child. Every August, Ward, a prosecutor in the Pima County Attorney's Office, makes his pitch for attorneys and legal staff to get involved in Lawyers for Literacy, which is sponsored by the Pima County Bar Association and its Young Lawyers Division. For information, visit www.pimacountybar.org/web/community-projects/99, or email Ward.
How long has Lawyers for Literacy been around?
It's been going on in Tucson since 1991. I've only been involved since 1998 or so. I run it and recruit attorneys and schools as a project of the Pima County Bar Association.
How do you get people involved?
Starting in August, I recruit attorneys and schools, and we start in mid-October. We end the first Monday in May. I also have to check to make sure my schools from the previous year are interested, and if lawyers are ready to come back. ... (I) hit the law school. ... Announcements go out in the bar newsletter, and we also reach out to legal assistants, judges and even my own office—and the public defenders, too. We always have a lot of success with both public defenders and prosecutors, including the federal defenders and prosecutors as well. It ends up being a broad cross-section that comes together, and people from private firms help us out as well.
How many groups are participating this year?
This year, we have three schools and about 30 tutors. Years ago, we had more schools and more tutors, but it ebbs and flows ... based on factors I can't even put my finger on. It usually works out between the number of interested schools and tutors.
What expectations do you have for participants?
They are told they are going to be working with one kid for an entire school year—third-, fourth- and fifth-graders selected by their teacher to join the program. Sometimes, the student needs a little more help with their reading, or they're a good reader, and it's to increase their interest. Those are the primary reasons. There is also a mentoring component as well. During their participation, kids are exposed to someone who is successful, is a member of a legal community, and enjoys reading.
Do only attorneys get involved?
No. If you go to TUSD's website (www.tusd1.org), there is a tab to see what the volunteer opportunities are. There's a tutoring program designed for persons (older than) 50 to help kids with homework. ... There's Read and Seed. They help out at TUSD and other school systems. We have a lot of people who would be interested but can't work with those groups (but work with us).
Volunteers work Monday evenings at the school, right?
Yes, the tutoring takes place at the school library, but the teacher has to be present to monitor our activity. A teacher is assigned to the school that helps us out and is available only one day a week.
How did you get involved with Lawyers for Literacy?
I got recruited by a co-worker to join back in 1998 or 1999. I'd never heard of it before I came here. We kind of borrowed the program from an existing program in Colorado. A few years later, I was asked to coordinate the program. I started off as a tutor, and now I'm just an overall coordinator.
What do volunteers get out of it?
There's a lot of satisfaction and appreciation from the schools and the kids. Everyone thanks you for what you do. It's always great to hear that. When I was a tutor, it was more meaningful to be involved every Monday. The feedback and instant gratification is great, because you know what you're doing is helping, and if (the students) can develop a lifelong interest in terms of being a better reader, on a personal level, that's very gratifying. ... It's something they will use all their lives, and their lives are better off if they are better readers. There's so much connection.
What schools are you at right now?
We are at Manzo Elementary, ... Ford Elementary and Pueblo Gardens. All are interested and have been with us for several years. ... When we lose a school, it is mostly because the school can't devote a person to come after school anymore. We've had teachers in the past who were involved for a long time, but they retire or sometimes go to another school, and then we lose them. It can be tough for us to find someone at a school to fill that role. We can't be at a school without that teacher.