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Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: The thrill of words on a page

As I write this, I'm starting with a blank page.

It's kind of scary. I know I'll create something eventually, but I have no idea what it will be or if anybody will care.

I like starting with a blank page. It's why I like my job at the Ledger-Enquirer, where we start every day with several dozen blank broadsheet pages and limitless room in cyberspace.

It's also why I like reading to pre-K students through the Literacy Alliance's Kindergarten Readiness Program.

Talk about a blank page.

The children in the program have been identified as at-risk. They've had fewer learning experiences and know far fewer words than their peers. They're starting out in last place.

Some are meek and scared. Some are hardened and tough. All are hungry to learn.

People sometimes tell me I'm doing a great thing by reading to these children, that I'm sacrificing my time.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I do it for me.

See, I loved reading to my own children, but they're all teenagers now. I don't read to them much. Instead, I come home from work and after dinner one of them asks if I can teach him to parallel-park.

"When's your driver's test?" I ask.

"In the morning," he says. It's now pitch black dark and pouring down rain.

Ugh.

So once a week I go to Fox Elementary School and read books like "Goodnight Moon" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to a couple of pre-K students.

They're the same books I used to read to my own kids, and they're the same books my own parents used to read to me.

I still remember the thrill I got when I first saw those words and pictures, when on the sixth day the very hungry caterpillar ate his way through one chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

I got to relive the experience when I saw the spark in the eyes of my own children, and now I get to see it in the eyes of these kids at Fox.

My own children were maybe 2. These children are 5. That doesn't matter. What matters is that they're getting a chance.

On Friday, I saw my two Reading Buddies at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, where they'd been bussed with classmates to watch "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" on stage.

Rick McKnight, the venue's community support officer, told me that more than 2,000 children would see the show on Friday, and about half would do so because of generous donations from individuals and corporations.

I caught a few minutes. The children went cra

zy when the caterpillar danced. They went crazy when a giant giraffe appeared out of nowhere. They even went crazy when the sets changed.

I just sat there in the dark listening to the children whoop and holler and laugh.

Any child can learn if given the chance. And when it happens, it's mighty fun to watch.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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