The day I found SEAL, I was tired; I had spent the better part of the day trudging up and down the many organizations tabling in front of Gregory Gym in the unforgiving August heat. Suddenly, I heard a gentle voice amongst the others: “Does anyone like reading to kids?” I peered around until I saw a young man grinning and standing still in a bustling crowd. Excitedly, I leapt for the flyer and knew I had found the organization for me: Students Expanding Austin Literacy, with its red and white shock of colors brighter than the day around them.

With bated breath, I waited hopefully for an assignment. Soon and to my relief, I was chosen and assigned a reading buddy, a second-grader. My buddy was easily excitable, equipped with wide, curious eyes that turned into bright crescent moons when he smiled, which he did often. The first book we read was a book about garbage trucks, and he laughed and laughed and laughed. I don’t think I had met a child who found stinky, oozy trash so amusing until then, but I found myself grinning and nodding at every picture like he did.

My buddy was a nervous reader, but he was smart. When I told him this (and I knew it was important to do this often), the crescent moons would appear and an explosion of laughter would emit from him like lava erupting from a volcano. We started off with small books about boyish things that interested him. He liked reading about ghosts and wedgies and superheroes that wore capes and underwear. There were times he would explain a joke to me, and I would laugh at the innocence of childhood. I felt less stressed and more willing to have a good time.

My favorite memory was when I pulled a small picture book from the shelf and placed it in front of him. Usually at this time, the crescent moons would appear, and he would begin reading immediately. However, this fateful day, he grabbed the book and stared at the cover for a minute. “Brianna?” His voice was quiet and nervous. “Can we read… I don’t know, can we read a chapter book today? I’ve been looking at the Junie B. Jones books.”

I was so excited!

The rest of the weeks we spent together were dedicated to reading a few chapters a day. He would ask me to let him read a few pages all by himself and only asked for assistance when he felt he truly needed it. I felt accomplished but not for myself– for him. I knew it was a huge step for him, and I was excited for his future in reading.

Overall, I learned a lot from my reading buddy; he found joy in the simplest of things and wanted to try new things, even if they seemed scary at first. I will carry that with me and always try to make my own eyes crescent moons.

– Brianna Rodriguez, Harris Elementary volunteer

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