Jeremy Erber and Nathanial Hemingway are in their second year volunteering with Read Ahead. Both Jeremy and Nathaniel work for the Brooklyn Nets. In their first year and a half, Jeremy and Nathaniel have done an outstanding job in making a real difference in their student Dominic’s life!
What inspired you to start volunteering with Read Ahead?
N: Jeff Scott, who serves as Read Ahead’s liaison with the Nets, always has different opportunities for us to volunteer with various different projects, and this one stuck out to me. Having a mentor and being able to have a one-on-one and personal connection with somebody, and to be able to help and hopefully change their life for the better is very rewarding. That’s the reason I decided to start. The opportunity to co-mentor worked out perfectly as Jeremy and I both have busy schedules.
What strategies have you used with Dominic and how do they differ?
N: Jeremy and I try different things and work in different ways, then on the back end we try to discuss what is working with Dominic. There are times when he doesn’t want to read, and there are times when he does. Sometimes he wants to read only about sports, and then sometimes we try to really push him to read something else. There are times when he comes in and he’s having a rough day and doesn’t want to read, so I try and entice him by saying, “Oh if you read this, then we can play Connect Four or Hangman. But you have to read a certain number of pages first.” There are times when you have to be strict, and other times you can be more laid back. Just trying to work out different ways so that in the long run we can all be efficient and effective together.
J: I share that sentiment. At this point, we’ve gotten into a routine where we do alternate and we’ve gotten know him a little bit better. The angle that I see is that we’re all different, we come from different backgrounds. I didn’t know him that well in the beginning, but you learn about people when you spend more time with them. Nate and I, we’re both in sales so we deal with lots of different people and personalities, some tougher than others, and it’s similar with Dominic. He’s got his own set of circumstances. Some days he feels good, and others he can be having a bad day. As much as the Read Ahead program is about reading, it’s also about making a connection and trying to level with him. Last week he wasn’t in the best of moods, so I said, “Alright, we’re not going to read right now, I’ve got to talk to him a little bit, figure out what’s going on.” Sure enough, he came around and before the end of the class he picked a new book, we were reading, and playing Hangman. So, it’s really about understanding his trigger points and how to connect and motivate him to want to read. I think he’s improved. We’ve definitely seen him advance in that space.
Is there a book that has been particularly successful?
N: He’s a big sports guy, he likes playing basketball, so I know Jeremy has brought in more sports books. That’s what he likes to read– that’s what’s intriguing to him. There are days where he’s just not in a good mood, so he likes to play Hangman a lot, and to me, that’s a challenging game. So we’ll do that, but a combination of Hangman and sports books has been really successful. I’ve been trying to push him to read other stuff outside of only sports books so that he can broaden his interests. That’s really where the challenge is right now… just getting him interested in a variety of things, trying to find what other interests he may have that he doesn’t even know about.
Did you have someone in your life who influenced you to read?
J: It’s funny, I wasn’t really very much of a reader when I was Dominic’s age. It probably took me until the 6th or 7th grade until I really appreciated it. I had a really great English teacher in middle school and we read a book called “So Far from the Bamboo Grove.” Somehow, she was able to bring in the author, which I thought was pretty cool. She went above and beyond to incorporate that sort of stuff into what we were reading and I thought, “Oh wow, this is pretty cool because you can relate it to different things.” Some people can look at the program as a way to build an important skill to have in life, but it’s more than that. Reading can be positioned in so many different ways—it could be for leisure, it could be for school, it could be to learn more about a subject that you’re interested in. I think that was the first real example I had of someone that was passionate about reading and it showed in her actions. Now I’m a pretty avid reader and understand the importance of it. And if I didn’t have her, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much.
Any last thoughts?
N: The program overall is great, and us having the opportunity to participate is fantastic. As a young child, I would have liked to be a part of a program like this. I can see that I would have been intrigued to be part of a program like this and work with a mentor. I love what you guys are doing, and hope that you guys continue to do it and that it only builds and it gets stronger in the future.
J: I agree—I’ve been a part of it now going on almost two years. Seeing the evolution of our student and the positive changes has been so rewarding. The program can take on a lot of different forms, but I think the premise is still the same, and it’s great to give students a chance to connect with an adult in a setting that they probably wouldn’t otherwise have. You guys are doing a great job.