Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Giving Back Laura Crooks; Word Lover Helps Kids Get a Read Her Desire to Please a Teacher Became Passion for Helping Youngsters

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Giving Back Laura Crooks; Word Lover Helps Kids Get a Read Her Desire to Please a Teacher Became Passion for Helping Youngsters

Article excerpt

Byline: Nancy Winckler-Zuniga

When people volunteer, they can change lives - including their own. Each week in Reason, we will highlight a volunteer's story of giving back and how that selfless act was a true revelation. The volunteer project is a collaboration among the Times-Union, the University of North Florida, the United Way of Northeast Florida and HandsOn Jacksonville.

Laura Crooks' favorite children's book is "The Velveteen Rabbit," the story of a beloved toy eventually becoming real. It's a story that reminds us to value what we have and how love can change a life.

It could be a metaphor for the work that she does with her charges at the Carter G. Woodson preschool class as a volunteer with United Way's ReadingPals program.

Crooks is supposed to be retired. With a background as an educator and special needs expert, however, she couldn't stay away from children for long. She heads to the classroom twice a week, helping not only the six assigned students but the entire class with its reading work.

"I feel so welcome there," Crooks said.

Growing up, she wasn't always the best or fastest reader, but she was determined.

Inspiration came in the form of her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Adams, who expected her students to learn a poem every week. Her grandmother had similar expectations and scheduled diction classes for Laura every Sunday afternoon. But for her beloved teacher, she practiced and practiced hard - her mind set on earning her teacher's recognition. Mrs. Adams was one of those teachers whose life was the classroom, who inspired children through her sharing of personal stories and ability to adjust her teaching to any level, to any child.

"I learned to love the language of poetry, the beauty of the written word," Crooks said.

She also learned that she loved inspiring others to read, starting first on her brothers and sisters.

"I knew if they could read, people would think they were smart," Crooks said, smiling at her early attempts at teaching.

She admits, eyes twinkling, that reading to others was an out for her in high school; she earned extra credit in her home economics class by reading to younger children. …

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