Statewide polls conducted earlier this year by the Chalkboard Project - a coalition of five Oregon charitable foundations working to improve K-12 public education - show that most Oregonians place a high or urgent priority on supporting education basics such as reading.

With our public schools stretched thin, how can we help our children get the extra reading support we agree that they need?

The Chalkboard Project's results led to an enthusiastic endorsement for Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) as a simple and effective solution to give local children the basic reading skills they need to succeed. Individuals, such as myself, personally participate in the program because of the connections being made between our community, its schools and our local children.

SMART makes a lasting impact on the community as a whole, but there is more to do. Last school year, more than 260 SMART volunteers in the north coast area stepped up to help more than 360 early readers get the extra reading support they need. That's a great accomplishment, but more local children need help. More volunteers are needed to optimally serve the 10 schools in Clatsop and Tillamook counties.

This school year, consider getting involved with SMART. Volunteer one hour each week and help a child discover a love of reading, or help sponsor a child in SMART for the entire year for only $300. Here are four reasons why it's time to get involved:

It's a good investment. The inability to read has significant economic, as well as educational, consequences. Every year, over one million children drop out of school, costing the nation more than $240 billion in lost earnings, forgone tax revenues, and expenditures for social services.

It's a simple solution. Can you find one hour each week to spend reading with a child? If not, help fund SMART instead. Contributions provide books for children to start personal libraries and the structure necessary to facilitate a safe, effective program. In today's hectic lifestyles, spare time for families to read with a child has become a luxury. Statewide SMART volunteers and donors are providing this vital service of literacy to children in our local community.

It will make you feel good. Even though you're out of school or may no longer have young children, discover how fulfilling it is to get involved with our schools again. SMART volunteers tell us how much their lives are changed and enriched, and how they feel more optimistic about children and schools in our community.

A little effort makes a big difference. When you get involved with SMART, you help our schools, our teachers and principals, our community, and ultimately, our future.

If you're an employer, become a business sponsor of SMART. Or, consider giving your employees time off to volunteer. If you're an individual who wants to make a difference for Oregon's children, get involved with SMART. You will be able to improve the prospects of our community's children this school year and well into the future.

To get involved, contact SMART at (503) 842-4212 or www.getsmartoregon.org.

STEPHANIE GORING

SMART Manager

Clatsop and Tillamook counties

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