Reading Buddies take small step that makes big difference

United Way's Imagination Library and Reading Buddy program gives free books to children and promotes literacy

United Way's Imagination Library and Reading Buddy program provides free books to kids and promotes literacy.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley launched the Imagination Library over two years ago and since then, it’s been able to reach more than 5,000 families in Mahoning County.

The program that gives free books to kids is expanding, with volunteers known as “Reading Buddies” promoting literacy.

The pint-sized learners love books, even if they already know the story.

“I read Clifford the Big Red Dog, so they already knew about the Big Red Dog and how big he was,” said Reading Buddy Shayla Padilla. “They really enjoyed that because they were so engaged in that.”

The experience is a life-learning lesson for Youngstown State education majors like Padilla and Heather Morris.

“I love coming into the classroom, seeing the little ones having fun just sitting there, waiting for us to show up to read to them,” Morris said.

The key to teaching literacy is starting early, but the kids are learning skills beyond reading at story time.

“It gets them exposed to socialization…gross motor skills, fine motor skills, communication,” said Valerie Sturgeon, head teacher at YSU Little Penguins.

For reading volunteers like Padilla and Morris, just being in the classroom is exciting. Padilla says knowing she’s helping the future generation makes it all worth it.

“The more you give, the more you’re going to get back in your community. The more you want something to change, the more you will see the change when you’re putting in effort.”

Literacy Nights are also part of the Imagination Library and Reading Buddy program. Austintown Schools have reached over 800 kids participating this year, which is double the number from last year.

You can donate by visiting United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley’s website.

To see all of WKBN’s stories on Giving Tuesday, visit the designated section on

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