Liberty Kids and the Joys of Reading


Co-led by senior Emily Lencyk and juniors Anna Duerr, Katherine Gardner and Cara Heverly, Liberty Kids is a Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) organization devoted to helping first and second grade students from Hamilton Central School improve their reading skills. Members of Liberty Kids are led by an enthusiastic group of leaders, the organization’s Get Involved page emphasizing this passion, saying “Not only do we strive to help the students improve their reading ability, but we also work to build confidence in our Hamilton buddies and get them excited about reading!” With more than 30 members in the group, the team leaders have had to change the way meetings and events are done to maintain Covid-19 safety procedures.

We have been trying our best to maintain Liberty Kids’s mission virtually. This semester, instead of going to Hamilton Central once a week as a group, we switched to individual online meetings. Each Colgate student communicated directly with their buddy’s parent/guardian at the beginning of the semester to set up a time to meet virtually once a week. We have been able to access online library resources that allow us to screen-share ebooks so we can read together with our buddies. In addition, our community partner shares literacy activities and games than can be done virtually every week. Depending on the week and individual pair, members might focus more on the literacy activity or on reading; we have found that it is really important to be flexible with online learning!” Gardner said.

The team leaders of Liberty Kids have mostly been involved since their first year on campus, their reasonings behind joining the club usually being related to service having been a big part of their high school years.

“I learned about the club at the beginning of my first semester freshman year from a post in my Class of 2021 Facebook group. At that point in the semester, service had already begun a week or two prior, but luckily I was still able to join,” Lencyk said. “Thank goodness I did because Liberty Kids has definitely been a highlight of my Colgate experience. I really wanted to join a COVE club because volunteering was something that I did a lot throughout high school. Also, my mom is a teacher and works in early childhood education, so when I told her about Liberty Kids, she really encouraged me to join.”

Regardless of their reasoning, though, Liberty Kids has turned into one of each team leaders’ favorite part of Colgate.

“My favorite part of Liberty Kids has always been the Hamilton students who we work with. We work in one-on-one ‘buddy’ pairs, and it is always amazing to see Colgate and Hamilton students bond with each other. We all really enjoy hearing about each other’s experiences and how well our buddies are improving week by week,” Gardner said.

Involvement in Liberty Kids has also brought the team leaders countless prized memories.

“My favorite memory from Liberty Kids came from last semester when my buddy after several weeks of not wanting to read independently started to bring books he was interested in to our meetings. It was amazing to see him start to love reading,” Duerr said.

Duerr is not the only one enthused by seeing first-hand someone’s love for reading.

“One of my favorite Liberty Kids memories (there have been many) was after spring semester my sophomore year. That semester my co-leaders and I organized our club’s first-ever fundraiser for Liberty Kids. We raised over $250 to buy books for the second grade class at Hamilton Central school, and because I was working and doing research at Colgate that summer, I was invited to present the brand new books that had just arrived to the second grade class,” Lencyk said. “They were SO SO excited about them and seeing their joy as they unwrapped the plastic from each chapter book and started flipping through the pages reminded me of why I love Liberty Kids so much. That excitement for reading is what makes leading Liberty Kids and volunteering so worth it.”

The organization has become a large part of the team leaders’ Colgate experience and is something that they hope others will get to experience, as well.

“Liberty Kids is really fun, our volunteers form incredible bonds with their Hamilton buddies, and we get the chance to read our favorite childhood books every week!” Lencyk said. “Another great aspect of Liberty Kids is that it provides our volunteers with the opportunity to practice thinking quick on their feet and being adaptive when working with students who may have different learning styles (i.e. skills that are great to have in any future profession!).”