Reading Club Welcome by Courtney McSparron
Reading Club is a staple of the children’s programming at Bethany Hill Place. Once a week our children meet with their reading buddies – volunteers from Framingham State University, board members, other residents – and read together. The program is meant to instill a love of reading. It wasn’t until a new child arrived unannounced that I realized it is also a place for newcomers to be welcomed into the community.
One Wednesday afternoon, a small girl appeared at the door to the children’s room half-way through reading club. She was breaking a cardinal rule of the children’s room – she wasn’t wearing shoes! I told her she broke the rule and said she could go upstairs, put on shoes, and return to the event. She said, as she quickly ran up the stairs, “the reading club better still be going on when I get back!” To her delight it was and she was paired with a longer term Bethany Hill resident and a reading buddy. The trio read a book about the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart. When the book ended our newest reading club member asked about the club. Our veteran child filled her in on the logistics of the club, other children’s programs, the hours of the down stairs offices, and how great our prize box is. They discussed the holiday party, arts and craft events, and Parents’ Café. Throughout her explanations, our veteran child assured the newcomer that she was welcome and that she would love all the goings-on of Bethany Hill Place. When reading club was over she took her on a tour of the building. Since their first meeting, these two children have continued to spend time together and have facilitated their parents becoming friends.
While I am sure any staff member of Bethany Hill Place would have been able to explain our programming to this new child, it could never have been as powerful as the welcome she received at Reading Club that day. There is no better measure of gracious hospitality than how it spontaneously emerges from the community itself. Our veteran child felt welcomed and loved by her community and therefore she could offer community the same gracious hospitality.