MONIQUE BATSON — Local United Way brings in volunteers to read to children on video

Published 12:06 am Friday, July 14, 2023

My mother has been an avid reader since before I was born. I can remember being young while she sat on my bed and read my favorite stories — anything from the Little Miss and Mr. catalog, and the very underrated “The Monster at the End of This Book.”

I won’t spoil the ending of the latter for you, but it never failed to amuse me — even on read No. 75.

I didn’t develop her love for reading until I was around 12. I was in sixth grade study hall with nothing to do, so a friend loaned me a book — “Prom Queen” by R.L. Stine. I spent the rest of the weekend with my face in that cheesy young adult horror story, and I haven’t stopped reading since.

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My mother and I have often gone on road trips that included hours in bookstores.

Recently I saw the United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County was looking for volunteers for a summer Story Time program. And I’m as passionate about volunteering as I am reading.

I noticed other notable names in Port Arthur and surrounding areas signed up, so I eagerly did, as well.

My children will be 16 and 18 this month. The last time I read a story to one, it was “The Diary of a Young Girl.” My youngest had been assigned to read it in school, and I found he absorbed the information better when we read together.

But the United Way offered me a chance to tap back into the days when there was a monster at the end of the book.

And while all volunteers were allowed to bring their favorite story, I did not pick my beloved Sesame Street adventure. Instead, I opted for something that quite literally illustrated what reading means to me.

“Harold and the Purple Crayon,” by Crockett Johnson, was published in 1955. The story follows a 4-year-old boy as he uses a crayon and his imagination to go on a moonlight walk that quickly becomes an adventure. Not only does Harold use his crayon to create what he wants, but he also uses it to get out of precarious situations.

We tell our children that books allow a window to the world and an opportunity to travel anywhere, but we don’t always stress that our imaginations can do the same. Whether it’s through drawing, writing, music, acting — expression through the arts can be just as magical as reading.

When it came time to read my story this week, I went to the United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County in Port Arthur and was set in front of a colorful, kid-friendly backdrop where I read to a video recorder.

Curious how the video would be formatted, I quickly went to the organization’s Facebook page and saw videos of other familiar faces reading books of their choice. Sharita Gardner with the Port of Port Arthur chose “We’re More Alike than Different” by Sophia Day.

Charlee Chelette with Exceptional Emergency Center read “Germs Are Not for Sharing” by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen.

And I am excited to follow along as more videos are shared across the summer.

Janie Johnson, chief executive officer of the United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County, said the organization has long worked to promote literacy among children in the area.

Last year they began Story Time with the United Way.

“We recognized that an ongoing library of Story Time volunteers reading could have a multitude of benefits for our community,” Johnson said. “The Program offers support for the kids that want bedtime stories but with working schedules, home demands or literacy barriers their adults could use such a program for added support.”

This year, 35 readers volunteered to participate, including an elementary student.

“That is what this program and the early literacy initiatives are all about, supporting young readers with a skill that will support and bring joy throughout their life,” Johnson said.

Whether you are busy and need a little help providing your children with comforts such as a bedtime story or just want something readily available to improve their reading skills and vocabulary while exposing them to a multitude of fun and knowledge; be sure to check out the United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County’s Facebook page and read along with us.

And the best part is, if they really enjoy the story, they can “reread” it as many times as they want.

Monique Batson is Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at