Now that the Holidays are over and the year 2020 is already well on its way, the time for giving back is upon us. If you are not satisfied with the amount of goodwill you’re feeling or the amount of unconditional love you receive, try volunteering as a read-a-loud person for the Denver Public Library. There, you can let your inner child run free as you read books to children of all ages. This non-paying position can be done in any area that the library serves. What it lacks financially, it more than makes up in warmth, smiles, hugs, laughter and unconditional love. The joy it brings is enough to make the job worthwhile.
Being a volunteer reader for the Denver Public Library has been a mainstay for me since leaving mainstream theater. Though my opinion carries some weight, it is one place where I am not in control. My actions are assessed by a classroom of three and four-year-olds, the teacher, Miss Jocelyn, and her assistant, Breanna. Each week, I go to the library to pick up my assigned reading. I have now added specific authors to my favorites list, including Leo Lionni, who penned more than forty award-winning children’s books all by the time of his death at 89 years old.
While the oldest library dates back to the city of Alexandria, Egypt, which contained the world’s greatest collection of works from scholars, kings and people of the world, the initial Royal Library was part of a palace built after Alexander the Great’s death by ruler Ptolemy and his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. It included a sprawling temple to the muses and housed many people who lived there communally. Money was also held in common and a priest who headed the Museum was appointed by Augustus. Here, scrolls were kept on shelves under the covered walkway and in specially built niches throughout the Museum. This library became a great learning center of antiquity. Scholars would come from all over the world to study philosophy, mathematics, science, nature, art, literature and medicine.
For the enjoyment of children, we have an assortment of children’s books for all ages. The library selects between four and five books per week for the children’s half hour of reading time. Each read-a-loud session begins with big hellos as the children file in from their lunch and it is my job to select a song to entertain my crew and settle them down for the stories to begin. It benefits me to hear the continued instructions from the teacher because being a student at CCD, I am reminded to raise my hand when I wish to speak and not to spew out verbosely without exercising any self-control. When a child has a problem accepting instructions, they are reminded to take a break and must sit in another part of the room away from their classmates. When leaving the room for the day, I often pass by the child who is waiting for their “pardon” to be completed. I try my hardest to leave them with the feeling that I, too, have sat right where they are at and have learned the art of respecting adult figures in the world of education. One day, they will realize the benefit of the shaping and molding that happens in the classroom.
My very first year doing this kind of volunteer work was when I was transitioning out of mainstream theater. I invited the teachers and students to come and see Beauty and the Beast which was one of Phamaly’s (Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League, Inc.) favored Walt Disney Productions. It was on my last day of reading to this particular group of three and four-year-olds that I happened to notice two young boys sitting in the back row. They were rolling their eyes and lifting their bodies in emulation of the highs and lows that my own voice created as I read. In an instant, I recognized that at this age, these children have no malice or guile. They were not trying to induce any kind of harmful feeling toward me, they were simply trying to act as though they were reading. Their voices had been able to master as best they could all the personification that I had given to them during my reading. For the first time in my life, I was flattered by this form of mimicry. The realization that these children had not been changed into anything but “wide-eyed optimists” was more than I could handle. They were unburdened by any type of growing pains that would, for the most part, seem automatic at later points in their lives. My form of growing pain was in selecting the song we were going to sing that day.
Alberto Pellicer is the read-a-loud super-source at the Denver Public Library (Central Branch) and he, quite frankly, can read a children’s book with all the onomatopoeia, chagrin and silliness it takes to bring the children’s book to life. He is both caring and personable to a fault and he takes his responsibility with astute seriousness. If there is a team that I could draw benefit from I should like it to be the Denver Public Library who is celebrating their 130th birthday this year. They welcome old and newcomers alike into the multi-floored building that houses computer labs, reference materials, great sculptures as part of its close proximity to the art museum and a complete CD/DVD collection available for consumer check-out and use.
In deciding which song is my all-time favorite, I had to first check out several DVDs in order to listen to the performers as though their very lives depended on it. The first was Haunted Honeymoon with Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, and Dom DeLuise. It holds within the confines of this wonderful comedic suspense-thriller a wonderful rendition of Ballin-the Jack. I also plucked Victor/Victoria from the shelf to hear the incomparable Julie Andrews perform the ill-fated last of her singing career since I intend to use Le Jazz Hot to perform at The Mental Health Center of Denver’s talent show coming up on January 23, 2020. I also checked out several scripts that I will be using next spring for my continued education. Like those who lived in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt, I have reveled in the many tombs of reference materials; books of knowledge and learning to mysteries and historical works, and lastly, children's books. I love my volunteer work for the Denver Public Library and highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to give back from their heart.