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Thursday, Jun 28, 2018

B.E.A.R. Buddies in Carter County seeks volunteers

Even though schools are out for summer, Niswonger Children’s Hospital is helping local students stay on track with their reading development – with support from the community.

The B.E.A.R. Buddies (Being Engaged to Achieve Reading) program is seeking volunteers in Carter County to read with local elementary students who need to boost their skills. The students, who range from kindergarteners to third graders, are identified and referred by teachers if they’re six months or more behind their grade level for reading.

“For the first time, students from Elizabethton City Schools are participating in B.E.A.R. Buddies, and 17 children have signed up. However, we need more volunteers to serve as mentors and help the children improve their reading skills,” said Nicole Moore, health promotion coordinator for the Children’s Resource Center at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “B.E.A.R. Buddies volunteers typically meet with their student partner weekly – not just during the summer, but into the school year, until the child is caught up with his or her classmates.

“Volunteers come to B.E.A.R. Buddies from area high schools, senior centers, Ballad Health’s Heart & Soul program and other organizations. They have a variety of backgrounds, but they’re all united in their desire to help children in our region read better and reach their full potential.”

Through B.E.A.R. Buddies in Carter County, volunteers and students meet one-on-one at Harold McCormick Elementary, the site of Elizabethton City School’s Extended School Program. During the hour-long sessions, they read books provided by B.E.A.R. Buddies, or the students can select titles of interest. The books also come with mentor guides that help the volunteer foster reading and discussion, and students can take the books home.

“Reading well is the most important skill a child will learn, as almost everything in our world requires good reading and comprehension – without it, children are at a significant disadvantage,” said Laura Levine, one of the leaders for B.E.A.R. Buddies. “A low literacy rate affects our entire community, and it’s going to take a community effort to overcome.

“Whether you read with your children or grandchildren, volunteer with our schools or help an adult learner, everyone can help ensure our community reads well.”  

B.E.A.R. Buddies is a service of the Children’s Resource Center at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. The center aims to improve community health by investing in the health of children and their families through targeted outreach and support programs.

 “Studies repeatedly demonstrate the impact of family literacy on long-term health,” said Lisa Carter, chief executive officer of Niswonger Children’s Hospital and Ballad Health’s associate vice president of pediatric services. “When children read at an appropriate level, they can follow a course for success that leads to higher education, better jobs, more financial stability and a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, because reading habits are often passed from one generation to the next, B.E.A.R. Buddies volunteers are helping build a legacy of improved literacy and better health.”

In addition to Elizabethton City Schools, school systems across the region participate in the initiative, connecting volunteers from the community to local students.

“The relationships built by B.E.A.R. Buddies volunteers and students are truly remarkable,” Moore said. “In addition to reading with the children, mentors take time to listen and learn about their lives, and they form a bond that lasts beyond the program.”

B.E.A.R. Buddies must be at least 14 years old. To volunteer, please contact Whitney Larkin, Ballad Health’s director of volunteer services for its southwest market, at 423-431-4776 or More information about B.E.A.R. Buddies and the Children’s Resource Center can be found at

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