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At This Washington Power Lunch, Everybody Wins

Volunteers Read to Students on Their Lunch Break as Part of Literacy Program

It is a rare audience that can sit in a room of Senators, House Members and legislative aides without talking politics, but to the children of Everybody Wins! DC, the happenings of Captain Underpants beat out a debate over judicial nominations any day.

Everybody Wins! DC is a nonprofit group that promotes children’s literacy among elementary students in underprivileged Washington, D.C., schools. The group’s Power Lunch, which includes 150 volunteers from Congressional offices, invites professionals to read to students on their lunch break. With the students just recently returning from summer vacation, the power lunches picked up again Sept. 24, said Mary Salander, the executive director of Everybody Wins! DC.

Salander said most of the children are not affected by a person’s rank on Capitol Hill; rather, they are just excited to have an adult who is dedicated to spending time with them.

“What they really care about is having someone there who is a constant reader,” she said.

Everybody Wins! DC has more than 1,500 volunteers participating in the Power Lunch program, and the literacy group serves a total of 3,000 children in 32 Title I public elementary schools in D.C., according to Salander.

Children are recommended by their teachers for the program, although the child and the parent must consent to participate as well. The D.C. branch began in 1995 after former Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) championed the effort, Salander said.

According to the group’s Web site, Everybody Wins! began in New York in 1991 and has expanded to 16 states and the District. It serves 9,000 public school students.

In addition to the Power Lunch program, Everybody Wins! DC also sponsors Readers Are Leaders, which pairs older students with younger students to practice reading, and StoryTime, which brings in storytellers, authors and other performers.

Jenny Wing, a legislative aide in the office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said the time she spends with the students gives her perspective on the real world and is a nice break from the routine of Capitol Hill.

“They’re excited to have an adult there,” said Wing, who is volunteering with Everybody Wins! for the fourth year.

“I initially got involved because I know that Tom has always been involved,” Wing said, adding that the she was inspired by the Senator’s ability to take time out of his schedule to volunteer.

In 2006, Harkin and his reading partner at the time, 10-year-old Amii Young, were recognized by MENTOR, Everybody Wins’ umbrella organization, for their dedication to try to read 60 books before the end of that school year.

Another Everybody Wins! veteran, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), said he has been taking time to volunteer with Everybody Wins! for almost 13 years. A former teacher, LaHood said he understands how important it is for children to have someone to look up to, which is why he continues to volunteer.

“The program is a reading program, but it’s also a mentor program,” LaHood said.

Emily Cranford, who works as a legislative aide in the office of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said she enjoys her commitment to Everybody Wins! because it gives her a break from the routine of Capitol Hill.

“There’s no clout or status and I could just be anyone who could come in and read,” Cranford said.

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