PLEASANTON -- Most teenagers spend their summer days out with friends, sometimes at the movies or at the mall. Some stay indoors and play video games. All, however, are seriously relaxing before another school year begins.
Not Claire Williams,
Williams, 17, and a fifth-generation Pleasanton resident, spends much of her time listening to children read to her.
Founder of the program "Read to a Teen," Williams has spent the past two years perfecting her project that invites elementary school students to the Pleasanton Library once a week to read to teen volunteers.
The program is one of many book-based projects Williams has undertaken in the past few years, mainly to help promote literacy improvement
"How is anyone supposed to get through life if they cannot read and practice reading?" she said. "Obviously our state doesn't have much money, and Pleasanton is a wealthy area, but ... the cuts still hit us."
She began her literacy crusade when she earned her Gold Award in Girl Scouts. She set up a party for 160 foster care families in Pleasanton and as souvenirs to take home, she provided everyone with gifts including books and school supplies.
When Williams was volunteering at the Pleasanton Library for a program that has adults and teenagers read to children, she
"The importance of reading on your own is that books are filled with facts, fun, and food for thought," she said. "Reading enriches and educates you at the same time."
As Williams saw budget cuts further reduce reading specialists at local schools last year, she decided she wanted to help.
Her mother, Cindy Williams, said her daughter began to piece together the Read to a Teen program by "thinking outside of the box."
She flipped around the program for which she had been volunteering with at the library, making it a program where children gain confidence in their reading by seeing older peers actively listen.
"When one little boy told her he didn't have any books at home, that stunned her," Cindy Williams said. "It was hard to hear that in Pleasanton, kids don't have books. She is like all of us that live in this little bubble and when we hear something like that we go 'Are you kidding?'"
The program, which started last summer at the Pleasanton Library, was brought back again this summer, and it has grown enormously.
Every week, lists are full with dozens of children's names who are eager to sit down and practice reading with someone who is eager to hear how much they have improved in just seven days.
"It is amazing to see what she has done," said Teresa Parham, the teen services librarian at the Pleasanton Library. "She came to me with an idea, and there were kinks along the way, but she has mostly worked them out and has created something wonderful."
It has also garnered notice from other libraries as well. According to Williams, both the Sacramento Library and Livermore public librariees have shown interest in adding the program to their volunteer services.
Here in Pleasanton, however, Williams is hopeful the program is something that will continue to flourish, long after she has graduated from high school.
"I can't do it on my own, as much as I would like to," she said with a sigh. "You need help, and thankfully this has become something where volunteers now have said they will see it through."
Williams is the sister of 19-year-old Sarah Williams, who was one of 22 Americans selected to carry the Olympic torch in England for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Sarah Williams was chosen by Coca-Cola because of her project, Creative Kindness, which helped create 20,000 blankets for foster children.
Now a student at Scripps College in Claremont, Sarah Williams will have to look out for her younger sister, who already has her future pretty mapped out.
Williams said she knows she wants to be an English teacher and then a school district superintendent. It is hard to believe the 17-year-old still has time to breath.
However, Williams promises that between running "Read to a Teen" and planning her future careers, she really is a normal teenager.
"I have fun, I swear," she laughs. "I love to go to concerts, like Taylor Swift. I find time to hang out with friends. But my other activities are also something I find fun, so really I am always having a good time."
Contact Katie Nelson at 925-847-2164 or follow her at Twitter.com/katienelson210
CLAIM TO FAME: Williams started the "Read to a Teen" program, for which she won a $1,000 scholarship from Kohl's. She was selected because her application stood out, according to Kohl's spokesperson John Forristal, because not only was she passionate about her work, her program was designed to "make a real impact."
FAVORITE BOOK: "The Last Song," by Nicholas Sparks
FAVORITE QUOTE: ""The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." -- Dr. Seuss.
Want to know more about the "Read to a Teen" program and how you can help? Visit readtoateen.org.