Bluffton Boys & Girls Club members enjoy new reading room

August 15, 2011 

There's nothing like curling up with a good book on a comfortable couch, a cushy chair or giant floor pillows. Members of Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton know this now, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.

The money is being used for the Bright Spot Reading Center, and the local chapter was one of 100 Boys & Girls Clubs awarded money that amounted to $1.5 million nationwide. The idea is to encourage tweens and teens to read more and develop a more positive attitude toward reading.

For starters, Bright Spot money has allowed the club to make over a room that is more conducive to reading. The grant also provided the club with electronic readers. The early reviews by many of the 80 club members taking advantage of Bright Spot have been great, said Jaala Smith, teen director at Bluffton's Boys & Girls Club.

"This is making it very exciting to read," Smith said. "You start taking out things where they are used to reading in at school and giving them a calm environment and electronics -- kids are into electronics these days. Electronics are new and cool."

Before the makeover, the room was filled with industrial-looking bookshelves and typical library furniture. Club members were included in deciding how to transform the room into a tranquil setting and choose a beach theme.

With the help of many club member parents, the white and blue walls were painted a sandy color. Upholstered furniture and oversized floor pillows replaced many of the desks and chairs. A giant aquarium was brought in -- with fish coming next.

"Studies show kids love to read in reclining positions, comfortable peaceful kinds of space. Here at Bluffton, our goal was to make it the most serene spot in the facility," said Molly O. Smith, unit director of Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton.

Aside from lounging while learning, Jaala Smith said the club is taking a "hands-on approach" by tying in activities that are relevant to certain books. If a book is about basketball, kids may play an outdoor basketball game before reading the book, Jaala Smith said.

The purchase of six Kindles also was an instant hit, as more than 300 books already have been downloaded. Some members gave input on which books they wanted in hard copy and which on e-readers.

"It has helped me a lot. Instead of me going to the library and a place I'm not comfortable in, reading off the Kindle is a lot better," said Janiecia Mitchell, a club member who is entering her freshman year at Sweet Briar (Va.) College this fall. "And having the couches is a lot more comfortable than just sitting around a table and reading."

Jayln Hornbeak, another club member who is going into the seventh grade at Bluffton Middle School, enthusiastically agreed. "It's sort of inspired reading," he said. "If you're in a comfortable position, then nothing will stop you from reading."

Bright Spot reading rooms are designed to reverse alarming educational trends in youth, according to a press release sent by Debbie Szpanka, director of public relations and marketing at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry.

According to the 2009 Reading Report Card, only 33 percent of fourth graders are reading proficiently and 17 percent of low-income fourth-grade students are reading well. By eighth grade, the proficiency rate drops to 32 percent for all students and 16 percent for low-income eight-graders.

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