June 22, 2015

Volunteer of the Month: Q&A with Mark Wehling

Mark and Ptolemy

Mark and Ptolemy

Mark Wehling has just finished his first year volunteering with Read Ahead. Mark works for Bloomberg LP, one of Read Ahead’s strongest supporters. In his first year Mark has done an outstanding job in making a real difference in his student’s life. He currently reads with Ptolemy, who is always excited to arrive at his Read Ahead session, eager to spend time reading and drawing with Mark!

What has been the most rewarding aspect of volunteering with Read Ahead?
My motivation behind volunteering is to have an impact on a particular child for a length of time, whereas a lot of the volunteering activities that are out there, especially at the corporate level, are one-offs with different organizations. The institution will have a long term relationship with an organization, but the volunteers can be pulled from any number of people. I really like the idea of having a deep, ongoing relationship with someone where I can have a longer term visible impact on their life.

What is your relationship like with your student currently?
Not knowing anything about Ptolemy beforehand, we got along really well quickly. I sensed that he enjoyed reading in that it opens new worlds to him, but he wasn’t someone who would choose to read in his spare time. He has a lot of different interests, but it was neat that pretty quickly he became excited to see me and would give me a big smile and hello when I would walk up. Seeing his excitement was really meaningful for me in realizing that he was interested in spending that time reading, that it wasn’t a chore. Even though he wasn’t naturally inclined to want to read, he enjoyed it during that period. Seeing the level of interest grow over the course of the year was really exciting.

He went from not asking questions about me to asking more as we got to know each other. He started to realize that I was someone he could actually get to know, not a teacher but a figure in his life there just for him. It was great that we weren’t just sitting there reading together, we were talking about a lot of other things in our lives that would lead to additional insightful conversations

Is there a book that you’ve read in your lifetime that has had an impact on you?
In college I was a Spanish and International Studies major so I studied abroad in Spain. In one of the classes I took while abroad we read Don Quixote in Spanish, and chapter by chapter we would read it and then discuss it in class in Spanish. That was my favorite experience reading. Every class we would dive into what we read and it was so interesting from both a linguistic perspective and the meat of what the story is about was really inspiring to understand beyond the classic tale that’s widely portrayed.

Did you have someone in your life who influenced you to read?
Yes, my sister was my biggest inspiration, because she was a voracious reader from very young and always set the bar high. I could never keep up with her, even if I had tried, but she loved to read and really showed me the way. And my Mom and Dad would always encourage me to read. They would take me to the store before summer to buy fun paperback books like The Time Machine or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Choose your own adventure books also really got me interested in reading. My parents would encourage me to read on my own, which I fought as much as I could, but they would often read with me to get me going as well. From a really young age, we would read books together like Who Stole the Apple, Richard Scary or Popcorn. They would read every night before bed with me. Those times were great memories and really special.