BookMates interfaith literacy program fully back in-person

Volunteers attend an information session for BookMates, a JCRC interfaith literacy program.

Volunteers attend an information session for BookMates, a JCRC interfaith literacy program.

BookMates of Southern New Jersey, JCRC’s interfaith literacy program serving Southern New Jersey, kicked off the 2022-2023 academic school year with a series of volunteer information sessions and distributing copies of “Little Lovable Lucy’s Big Day,” an award-winning book in the “Lovable Lucy” series by mother and daughter co-authors and former Cherry Hill residents, Norma E. Roth and Shayna Rose Penn.

The program, which provides weekly one-to-one reading services with an adult to underserved students in Title I elementary schools throughout South Jersey, will be back in person for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020. According to Rhonda Shevrin, BookMates director, two years ago the program pivoted to running completely online due to Covid restrictions, and last year the program was a hybrid of in-person and online reading sessions with volunteers and students.

“This year we wanted to do something special,” said Shevrin, “to acknowledge the program challenges our volunteers and students faced during the pandemic.” Using grant money, Shevrin purchased “Lovable Lucy” books that are recognized by educators for how they help build essential reading skills in early readers.

“BookMates always look for books with diversity, and with stories kids can relate to,” said Shevrin. “The ‘Lovable Lucy’ book is the perfect blend of both. Our volunteers are excited that many of the students they read to will see characters like themselves within the pages of the book.”

BookMates volunteer Florence Brown is excited to return to Twin Hills Elementary School in Willingboro. “Being a BookMates volunteer is a big part of my life. It’s an invaluable experience for me and my students,” she said. Brown has been a BookMates volunteer for 20 years, signing up to fill a void left by the deaths of her mother and husband in 1998. Many of the students chosen for BookMates are rarely read to at home, and benefit from the individualized attention volunteers like Brown provide. “As I was looking through ‘Little Lovable Lucy’s Big Day,’ I imagined reading this book to my students and all of the ways we could use it in our reading sessions. When I work with kids in grades K-1, they come in not knowing how to read. By the end of the school year, my students know how to read independently. This book is a treasure and a bonus tool I will use this year.”

Nurturing a love of reading and building reading skills are a large part of the “Lovable Lucy” series mission, according to coauthor Norma E. Roth. “We are thrilled our book will benefit all of the children in the BookMates program.”

BookMates reaches over 600 students. “Our team of more than 100 volunteers exposes children to a wide range of literature while sharing the joy of reading,” said Shevrin. “The program also helps expand a student’s vocabulary, helps improve their reading comprehension skills, and hopefully motivates the children to read more on their own.”

For more information about BookMates, contact Rhonda Shevrin at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *