Greenwich United Way Awards 450 Students During the 2017 Reading Champions Year End Ceremonies

Literacy program in its 9th year supports public elementary schools and after school programs with specialized curriculum.  


GREENWICH, CT, Monday, June 13, 2017 — The Greenwich United Way recently awarded 450 students participating in the Reading Champions program during the 2016/17 school year. Each student completed the literacy program at one of 14 sites where tutors utilize the Reading A-Z program to help improve reading fluency. Reading Champions tutors presented their students with a certificate of achievement, Reading Champions medal and book at each site location ceremony. The Reading Champions program is in its 9th year and 137 trained tutors volunteered at 14 locations, 10 public elementary schools and 4 after school programs.


“Our end of the year ceremonies are special”, said Greenwich United Way Program Coordinator for Reading Champions, Marie Wardell. She continued, “Each child develops a positive connection to reading with their tutor through this program which is why it is so successful. We all enjoy celebrating together at the end of the year. Students are proud of themselves and tutors feel the tremendous impact they’ve made in the community. These celebrations are a great way to kickoff summer and build excitement for summer reading!”


Each Reading Champions site is assigned a liaison, who coordinates with the literacy specialist and site directors to ensure the program runs flawlessly during the year. The following are volunteers at each Reading Champions site: Betsy Coons at Old Greenwich School, Patricia Santonocito at International School at Dundee, Marie Wardell at Cos Cob School and YWCA of Greenwich, Marie Rubino at North Mianus School, Mary Jay at New Lebanon School, Bobbie Walker at Julian Curtiss School, Suzanne Sullivan at Riverside School, Susanna Trudeau at Hamilton Avenue School, Happy Pappas at North Mianus School – Kindergarten, Barbara Kavanagh at North Street School, Joanne Steinhart at Glenville, Joan Lowe at Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, and Julie Gibian at Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center.


A private Tea for Reading Champion volunteers was held on Thursday, June 8, at Woman’s Club of Greenwich. The event honors the hard work of the Greenwich United Way Reading Champions volunteers. Snacks and beverages were provided by Citarella Gourmet Market of Greenwich, CT. This year the Greenwich United Way invited Diane Garrett of Diane’s Books ( to keynote. Garrett told stories of how she was “caught” by reading as a young child. She explained “A quote I love says, ‘Reading is caught, it is not taught’. I’ll tell you a little bit about where I come from and the catchers that I was lucky enough to have in my life.” Garrett continued, “I don’t remember being taught, I remember being caught by my parents reading to us.” Garrett, her husband, and three kids moved to Greenwich in 1982 and Diane’s Books opened soon after. The book store was the first for kids in town and provided a venue for Diane to share her joy of reading and create meaningful connections with all who entered the shop. “It’s so wonderful because I just read to them [children] and then they know me” she said. Diane’s Books of Greenwich is located at 8 Grigg Street and has the largest selection of family books in the country.


Reading Champions Ambassador, Kaitlin R. DeBellis, was in attendance and presented Volunteer Program Coordinator, Betsy Coons, with a gift and expressed her thanks to all volunteer tutors. “Teaching a child to read is opening up a world of possibility that was not there before,” said Debellis. She continued, “I designed this bracelet as part of the ‘Everyday Hero campaign’, for X Jewelry. Today I am here to present this bracelet to our very own everyday hero- Betsy. Her dedication, love and passion for the program are a gift to all of us, most especially the students. She is a Greenwich United Way Reaching Champions Everyday Hero as are each and every one of you”.


Also in attendance to thank volunteers was Literacy Specialist at North Street School, Karen Bakota. “A kindergarten teacher at my school described the work of the tutors in our program quite well. She said: ‘The textbook definition of a champion is one who fights for a cause on behalf of someone else. Our Reading Champions volunteers have done this repeatedly, year after year, for those children who need a little extra guidance, that small push to success and that extra TLC to help them meet the benchmark. I am grateful for all they have done and look forward to our continued partnership in helping young readers blossom.’ I could not agree with her more. Our tutors make a difference in our students’ confidence and learning” said Bakota.


A tutor application can be found on the Greenwich United Way website under the Volunteer tab ( An informational video detailing the program can also be found on the Greenwich United Way website ( Mail application to Marie Wardell, Greenwich United Way Reading Champions, 1 Lafayette Court, Greenwich CT 06830 or email the completed form (both pages) to Marie Wardell (


For more information or to support the program with a donation please visit Greenwich United Way online ( Visit Greenwich United Way on Facebook (, Twitter ( or Instagram ( to learn more about the organization and people it serves in real time.


About Reading Champions

Greenwich United Way Reading Champions, in partnership with the Greenwich Public Schools, is a literacy program pairing Greenwich youth with trained community volunteers in an effort to build fluency skills during the school year. Since 2008, Reading Champions volunteers have assisted over 3,000 children in achieving individual reading goals in fluency. Over 130 volunteer tutors contribute an average of 4000 volunteer hours each year. By enabling students to obtain immediate feedback and receive one-on-one personal attention, the program has been a resounding and proven success. In conjunction with the Greenwich Public School reading curriculum, Reading Champions contributes to the development and growth of students’ fluency. Currently Greenwich United Way Reading Champions serves 10 of 11 elementary schools in Greenwich and the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center (BANC), Community Centers, Inc. of Greenwich (CCI), Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich (BGCG), and the Y.W.C.A. of Greenwich. Volunteer tutors are trained, no teaching experience is needed, and tutoring opportunities are always available. For more information contact Greenwich United Way at 203-869-2221 or