Wise READERS TO LEADERS – How it All Began — Andrea Sonnenberg

After practicing law for many years and having children of my own, I realized my true calling was to help children. I began by leading my daughter’s Girl Scout troop for many years, which then led to my involvement with the inner city Charter School, Para Los Ninos, where I sat on its Advisory Board supporting its development and programming. I began to use my legal skills to help unaccompanied child immigrants escaping abuse and neglect in their country of origin gain legal residency. This led me to join forces with my then teenage daughter to form a girls club for inner city girls. The club’s purpose was to emphasize the importance of education and to instill in them a love for reading and a desire to be their best self. We raised funds to put on the program, offering field trips and projects for the girls and saw great improvement in the girls’ self image and attitudes towards their learning and education.

My experience with the girls club offered me a first hand look at the impact we could have on literacy and self esteem through commitment to these students in a positive and safe environment, with a high mentor to student ratio. So when Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen Wise Temple mentioned in passing that he had read about a non-profit education program being implemented in North Carolina, we decided to launch a similar model in our home city.  With Wise Readers to Leaders, we could create a larger scale model of the successful program my daughter and I created while galvanizing our community to live its values.

This program didn’t just speak to me-it spoke to our community. We were able to raise the necessary funds from our committed community members for its first year of operation in record time. The beauty of our program is that it is truly a community effort. We have dedicated youth applying for teaching and assistant teaching positions. We have an overflowing list of community members committed to actively volunteering their services on the project. And we have the amazing physical sites and resources of various local institutions that were instantly made available to us for this project.

“The beauty of our program is that it is truly a community effort.”

Part of the mission of Wise Readers to Leaders (WRTL) is to catalyze the spread of education programs to Jewish institutions across LA to serve even more scholars and their families and to help reinvigorate congregations around the shared social action effort. WRTL has grown exponentially since its beginning as a mere dream nearly four years ago. We have expanded to a second campus serving nearly 150 students with plans to operate a third campus in summer 2015 which will enable us to serve over 200 deserving students and engage more college students as teachers and high school students and community members as volunteers.

Children who attend Wise Readers to Leaders become better readers, better students and better citizens. By helping our students avoid summer reading loss, we can do our part to close the achievement gap that has become a nationally recognized phenomenon. WRTL scholars have gained 2 grade levels in reading over the summer. In four short years, parents, teachers and school administrators praise WRTL for changing students’ lives and creating more engaged, attentive and successful learners. Come join us on our mission as we change the world together!