Community Volunteers at WITS

By Nick Colbert, Program Coordinator

Throughout the school year and summer, over 1,500 volunteers serve as WITS literacy mentors, including over 100 community members who empower Chicago Public School students as readers. This is achieved through four programs: WITS on the Weekend, WITS Kindergarten, Early Childhood Summer Program, and Classroom Reading Tutors. With the new school year approaching, WITS mentors shared why they continue to volunteer.

WITS on the Weekend (WOW) – WOW is a Saturday mentoring program for volunteers to encourage students to explore learning and literacy beyond the classroom. Volunteers engage with students in recreational reading, and cooperative STEAM learning challenges with a team of other students and volunteers.

WITS on the Weekend students and mentors from Lozano Elementary School on a field trip to Maggie Daley Park.

“WITS allows me to do something I love: working with students and giving more opportunities to children in our communities. I grew up coaching swimming during the summers, and, to this day, it was one of my favorite jobs because of the kids. WITS is an incredible organization, and I’ve experienced year after year the impact it can have with students.”
– Elise Spadavecchio: WITS on the Weekend volunteer at Rodolfo Lozano Bilingual & International Center Elementary School, Associates Board Member

WITS Kindergarten – WITS Kindergarten is a weekly program where volunteers spend 15-20 minutes reading one-on-one with their assigned students. Volunteers read to the same 4-6 students, establishing trusting relationships while building literacy skills over the course of the school year.

Community volunteer, Jean Sykora, reads with her student in the WITS Kindergarten program.

“Volunteering at WITS every year brings me great joy and satisfaction. I wholly believe in their mission, working with children to improve reading skills that will prepare them year-after-year and for the rest of their lives. When I walk into [Lozano] on Thursday mornings, I feel a community around me. Watching a child’s face light up when they read a few words or a whole sentence for the first time [is] truly magical.”
– Jean Sykora: WITS Kindergarten volunteer at Rodolfo Lozano Bilingual & International Center Elementary School

Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP) – ECSP is a classroom-based, five-week, summer program run by a lead teacher and supported by community volunteers who work with students on an individual basis.

Community volunteer, Susan Fredmen, reads with her student during the Early Childhood Summer Program.

“I volunteer through WITS, because I had a fabulous [WITS] volunteer during my 20+ years of teaching at CPS. When I retired, I wanted to ‘pay it forward,’ so I volunteer during the summer and with a second grade class during the school year.”
– Susan Fredman: Early Childhood Summer Program & Classroom Reading Tutor at Jose De Diego Elementary School

A community volunteer and her student read a story together in the Early Childhood Summer Program.

“When helping in the reading station, there was a young girl who always asked me to read “No, David!” After a few times of reading it to her, she began to read parts of the book back to me. By the end of the summer session, she read the whole book to me. It was incredible to see her grow…it gave me a great sense of joy to know that the children in the program would be able to learn to read.”
– Carol Perez: Early Childhood Summer Program mentor at Jose De Diego Elementary School

Jose De Diego Elementary School students pose for a photo in the Early Childhood Summer Program.

“Volunteering with WITS gives me the opportunity to give back to a city I love so much. I believe that if we want a healthy future for Chicago, then we need to start by supporting learning, literacy and self-efficacy in our children. Plus, I just love being around [students], they are so fun!”
– Cynthia Bassuk: community volunteer for the Mid-Day Mentoring program at Genevieve Melody STEM Elementary School, Early Childhood Summer Program at Jose De Diego Elementary School

Classroom Reading Tutor (CRT) – The CRT program places volunteers into a pre-K through third grade classroom.  Volunteers work with the teacher to support the classroom for at least two hours a week.  CRTs often work with small groups of students or one-on-one with students to build literacy skills.

Students read independently in a WITS classroom.

“I love reading with emerging readers! Reading has always been a huge part of my life and sharing it with young readers is an absolute joy. I know that being able to read, comprehend, and mine a text for meaning is one of the best predictors of school success. Supporting Ms. Brodie at Brentano has been one of the most rewarding activities of my life, and I am lucky that WITS has made that possible.”
– Sarah Erwin: Classroom Reading Tutor at Brentano Math and Science Academy

“WITS [creates] a volunteering experience that feels supportive and truly useful. We get to interact with wonderful students every week, getting to know them individually and building relationships. [I] work with the teacher, supporting her lessons by giving and receiving helpful feedback on what is needed. It has been one the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have ever had.”
– Nicole Herbst: Classroom Reading Tutor at Jenner Academy for the Arts

Through the dedication and commitment of volunteers, WITS programs engage students as emerging readers. With the new school year around the corner, we look forward to new partnerships and memories.

For more information on becoming a WITS mentor, visit