Mentor and a story – ‘Everybody Wins’ turns another page in Austin
Published 10:23 am Thursday, February 23, 2017
By Michael Stoll
Wednesday marked the last day of this school year’s “Everybody Wins! Minnesota” in Austin.
To celebrate, 45 excited kindergarteners from the Woodson Kindergarten Center arrived at the Hormel Foods Corp.’s corporate headquarters to hear one more story, “Happy Pig Day,” by Mo Willems, from their mentors before having lunch with them. Each kindergartener brought a handmade card for their mentors, thanking them for volunteering their lunch breaks to come to Woodson once a week since November to share a story with them.
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This ended the third year of partnership between Hormel and the Woodson Kindergarten Center to promote the literacy event.
“It’s been incredible to see these kids get so excited on the day that their reading buddies come,” said Woodson Kindergarten Center Principal Jessica Cabeen.
Cabeen first became familiar with “Everybody Wins! Minnesota” while working for St. Paul Public Schools. The decade-old program, created to inspire a love of reading in students considered at-risk, is only done in schools within the Twin Cities, with Woodson Kindergarten Center being the only exception.
“I reached out to the organization,” Cabeen said. “We really advocated the need for something like this here in Austin.”
Cabeen said the program has drawn praise from Woodson parents.
“Parents just love it,” she said. “When they sign up for the 45/15 [year-round school] calendar, they’re like, ‘You’re going to do “Everybody Wins” again this year, right?’ It’s neat to see that inspiration.”
Employees at Hormel gave an overwhelming response to the opportunity to participate this year.
“We had more volunteers than students to read to, and that happens every year,” said Katie Larson, the Hormel Director of Organizational Development. “We have great employees here who are always looking for ways to give back to the community.”
While the students benefited from having their reading buddies come visit them every week to share a story, the adults found the experience just as rewarding.
“It’s been a really fun opportunity to take a break from the workday and do something in the community,” said Compensation Analyst Heidi Portz, who mentored kindergartener Valery Norigea Martinez. “It’s been really great to meet Valery and read with her and have a new friend.”
When asked which of the books was her favorite, Norigea Martinez simply said, “Happy Pig Day.”
For some of the volunteers, including Andrew Quinn, the reasons to be involved were personal.
“I have two young daughters and reading is one of the key parts of our nightly routine, so to be able to give back to these children is invaluable. It’s extremely rewarding,” said Quinn, brand manager of Refrigerated Snacking
His reading buddy, kindergartener Lucas Schneider, called Quinn his “best reading buddy.”
Although this year’s “Everybody Wins” program has ended, Larson said they have no intention of stopping.
“We’re committed to this for the long haul, so I have no reason to believe we won’t be doing this several years in the future.” When asked if she would change anything, Cabeen said she wished it was longer.
“I think nobody wants this to be over today, and neither do I,” she said.