Senior Citizens from UCC Communities in Indianapolis Instill a Love of Reading into Area Children

Roberta Stephenson of Villa at Sacred Heart reads “Mom, There’s a Bear at the Door!” by Sabine Lipan.

Three United Church of Christ senior communities in Indianapolis — two urban and one suburban — are turning the tables on outreach: instead of just being served by community staff, residents of these Retirement Housing Foundation ministries serve others, too, thanks to a unique community reading program.

The Villa at Sacred Heart, University Center — both near downtown Indianapolis — and The Towers at Crooked Creek in the suburbs are participating in CBS4 Reads. The program, the brainchild of CBS affiliate WTTV-4, began in Fall 2016 when its morning news team wanted to give back to the local community. So the station decided to tackle literacy. Sacred Heart, University Center, and Crooked Creek are three of many local groups that are participating.

“Literacy is so important for many reasons,” says Terra Garvey, CBS4 Indy account executive, “not only for the educational aspects, but also for the bonding and the imagination it brings to our youth.”

Leroy Seats Jr. of University Center reads “Heron & Turtle” by Valeri Gorbachev.

It’s All About Reading to Children

The program is geared to encouraging people to read to children, so the station brought a crew to the three communities and taped each volunteer reading a book. Each story has a 30-second commercial that includes the volunteer identifying themselves and the senior community they live in. After the promos run, the full stories are uploaded so that the communities can share the complete stories on their websites and social media.

When the Villa at Sacred Heart was approached, Property Manager Mandy Fischer says residents jumped at the chance to participate. “I asked my residents if they would be interested in participating in the readings,” she says. “They all have grandchildren and were very excited about the idea.”

Nicole Beverly, property manager at The Towers at Crooked Creek, got the same reaction. “We have an organization on our property called the Resident Ambassadors, and they were more than eager to volunteer,” she says. “Unfortunately, we could only choose five.”

Randa Austin of The Towers at Crooked Creek reads “Penguin’s Big Adventure” by Salina Yoon.

Reading Benefits Children and Seniors

The commercials began airing in late October during the weekday morning newscast to promote the stories’ future appearance on the station’s YouTube channel. The program has had an unexpected benefit for the residents who participated. They “really enjoyed the whole process of reading the books and knowing that kids would be able to hear the story from them,” says Fischer. “It was exciting for my residents. They all had a great time during the recording.”

Another benefit was helping “the seniors to participate in more things to help them feel better,” says La Toya Brown, property manager at University Center.

The benefits to the entire Indianapolis community have been many, and Garvey says it’s all thanks to the residents.

“Having volunteers that are willing to take the time to open their hearts to reading is how we are able to continue this program,” she says. “When others see or hear about the readers that volunteered, our hope is that it encourages them to read as well, or be a light to others in our community.”

Watch other CBS4 Reads commercials from Sacred Heart — spot 1, spot 2, spot 3.

Commercials from University Center — spot 1, spot 2, spot 3, spot 4.

Commercials from The Towers at Crooked Creek — spot 1, spot 2, spot 3, spot 4.

Retirement Housing Foundation is a CHHSM-member ministry and one of the largest nonprofit providers of housing and services in the United States. Founded in 1961 by two UCC clergypersons and a layperson who shared a vision of providing quality affordable housing and services for seniors, RHF today also provides affordable housing for low-income families and persons with disabilities.

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