August 18, 2015

Volunteer of the Month: Q&A with John Giouroukakis

John with Read Ahead Executive Director Kristen Baldwin and Program Director Courtney Wong

John with Executive Director Kristen Baldwin and Program Director Courtney R. Wong

John Giouroukakis started reading with Read Ahead four years ago and was instrumental in bringing on many volunteers from his employer,Latham & Watkins LLP. John also helped Read Ahead receive a $5,000 gift from Latham & Watkins as a benefit of their “Fit for Good” spring challenge. We are proud to honor John as volunteer of the month after his years of service and outstanding work as a mentor! 

What inspired you to first start volunteering with Read Ahead?
One of my partners and I helped organize getting Latham and Watkins involved from the very beginning and to show our support we became readers. We took the opportunity as partners to start reading as a way to inspire other people from within the firm to get involved. We attended the introductory meetings in order to learn more and it looked like a great organization, a great cause, and a great way to give back. It has met all of our expectations and more.

What has been the most rewarding part of volunteering?
Seeing the progress our children are making. You can definitely see the student progressing and growing in regards to their reading and their literacy. Most people, including myself, read with the same student for a number of years and you can see them grow and evolve over time. We’re playing a small role in it, but I think it’s helpful and important in helping inspire children to read for fun and become readers.

How would you describe your relationship with your current student?
My current student Chris and I have been together for a few years now. It’s a great experience, I’ve really gotten to know who he is and what’s going on in his life. It’s interesting, though it can be challenging at times. Not every student wants to read all the time if they’re tired or have other things going on in their lives. What I enjoy about my relationship with Chris is our understanding of one another. We both know what we’re looking for, what kind of books he likes to read, which is our game plan on reading. I try and find books that he’s very interested in to try and inspire him to read at home.

Have you had success with any books in particular?
We’ve have a lot of success reading non-fiction books about animals of the world. Chris has an interest in understanding about animals, whether it’s about snakes, sharks or dogs, he’s really interested. The past six months we’ve been focused on reading as much as we can about animals. A lot of the books have pictures so he can see the animals he’s reading and learning about. That was what we spent the majority of the last semester reading about. It was his interest to understand what he’s seeing around him on television and in school. It’s important to focus on the areas that interest them. It was successful in that he was having fun, enjoying himself while reading.

Do you have someone who inspired you to read when you were a child?
I grew up with immigrant parents from Greece and they did not speak English well. On some levels I can understand what ESL students go through in that they are starting off behind most other kids, I didn’t know how read well until I was in kindergarten. But I really just loved to read, it was a different era and reading was a better outlet. I was always really interested in reading, but I can’t say I had a mentor who read with me.  My parents would push me to read but I had to learn on my own. I had a love of reading from a very young age and I just kept reading throughout my life. I try to get across to Chris that it helped me succeed in life, that reading and literacy are a trigger to all other subject matters whether it’s math or science, reading is a core skill you need to succeed anywhere else. I try to impress that on Chris, that reading has been critical to the successes I’ve experienced in my life, that it’s an important tool.