CARROLLWOOD — Now that it’s summertime and the living is supposed to be easy, kids are faced with spending some time indoors during the afternoon, since there is a reasonably good chance of our traditional summer downpours.
Most will choose to play a video game or stare into their iPhone.
But they can read a book.
Just ask Carl and Cynthia Hawkins, lifelong educators who choose reading over video games. They put their money toward building a special, one-of-a-kind reading room for kids at the Bob Sierra Family YMCA. They dedicated $25,000 to that reading room, filling it with kid’s furniture, stuffed animals and plenty of books.
Their passion for reading showed when they spoke about it during a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 16. Kids filled the room almost immediately, sitting and reading on furniture that is a lot more comfortable than the desks that the kids sit at throughout the school year.
According to a report from the YMCA, based on a survey of more than 1,200 parents of kids between the ages of 5 and 12, only 26 percent of kids spend more than an hour each day reading.
The Hawkins team hopes to change that with their reading room.
Cynthia spent 39 years teaching sociology at Hillsborough Community College and Carl spent 25 years teaching at the University of South Florida.
“We need kids to read more,” Cynthia said. “When they read they can capture their own imagination. We wanted to make an impact.”
Carl remembers the book mobiles that used to travel through the neighborhoods, dispensing books. They aren’t around anymore, but at the time, they were traveling libraries.
“My mother made us read,” Carl said. “If we can get young children to read, that is a great equalizer. We need to give kids the opportunity and the structure to read at least two hours a week.”
Cynthia said the key was to build a room at the YMCA that would be inviting to the kids. The Y is packed during the summer, and she wants them to have plenty of options, especially when it comes to reading. She wanted to make sure the reading room was kid-friendly and there are stuffed animals everywhere. With the help of Barnes & Noble, the chain book store that is right down the road from the Bob Sierra YMCA, she was able to stock the shelves with books for kids of all ages, from kindergartners all the way through high schoolers.
“It’s exciting to see kids reading a book and see the excitement they get from it,” Cynthia said. “It means a lot to them and they get a chance to explore a whole new world.”