By Erika Ayn Finch
What started out as a way to put food on the table turned into a life-changing experience for Rachael Snavely. After years of working in fast-food, Rachael found herself without a job after a company-wide layoff. A friend suggested she apply to serve with Minnesota Reading Corps, which seemed like a stretch to Rachael. Though she had taught herself to read by the time she was 4, she had been homeschooled as a child and had no experience with public education, let alone working with kids. Nonetheless, Rachael decided to go for it. She says tutoring was overwhelming in the beginning, but things quickly fell into place thanks to the Minnesota Reading Corps training. She also received a lot of support from the school where she tutored, Parker Elementary School in Elk River.
“It was the first position I ever had where I felt proud,” Rachael says. “When I walked down the hallway, I felt taller. Reading Corps made a difference in so many ways, but the first difference it made was with my own self, and that stuck with me.”
Rachael served with Minnesota Reading Corps for two years, tutoring 96 kindergartners during that time. She now works as a paraprofessional at Elk River High School. Rachael is also in the process of earning her teaching degree from Western Governors University thanks to an education award she received from AmeriCorps as a benefit of her service. Rachael will graduate in May and plans to teach elementary school. She had tried to earn a college degree in the past – three times, to be exact – but financial issues always got in the way. “Just when I had decided college wasn’t for me, AmeriCorps came along,” she says. “I truly never thought it was possible to earn a degree.”
That isn’t the entirety of Rachael’s journey, though. (Fair warning: You might want to grab a tissue for the next part.)
What specifically was it about Minnesota Reading Corps that made Rachael completely reconsider her life’s direction? It was one little girl named Jaidyn. Reading Corps tutors who are serving kindergartners work with children in pairs. One of Rachael’s pairs included a girl who quickly graduated from the program, and Jaidyn, who needed more time to practice her skills with letters. Jaidyn was determined that she, too, would graduate from the program just like her partner. A few months later, she graduated with the highest score in the program. “She was just beaming – she was so happy,” recalls Rachael.
Just a few days later, Rachael received a message from the Parker Elementary School principal. Jaidyn had been killed in a house fire that weekend. Rachael, who attended Jaidyn’s funeral, still gets emotional when she talks about it.
“That was a turning point for me. You never know how long you’re going to have to make a difference in someone’s life,” she says. “You never know their circumstances. Jaidyn achieved her goal of graduating from the program, and I wanted that for all of my kids. I wanted them to feel successful and feel pride in their work and education. Minnesota Reading Corps changes lives. It gives these kids the power to write their own stories.”
You can learn more about how to join Reading Corps here.