Shared from the 4/10/2016 Reading Eagle Special Sections eEdition

Discover ways to make a difference



Students enjoy spending time with volunteers while learning to improve their reading and writing skills through the Ready. Set. Read! program managed by United Way of Berks County. Students at 16th & Haak Elementary School in Reading are listening to a book read by volunteer James Lengel, 71, of Exeter Township. Lengel is a retired school teacher and is using his experience and skills to volunteer with the program.



Volunteer Rick Klahr, Boyertown, right, enjoys helping people at the Vision Resource Center of Berks County, 2020 Hampden Blvd., Reading. As a volunteer, he drives clients, including Gloria and Ronald Snell of Reading, to doctors' appointments and other places. Ronald, center, is gradually losing his vision due to glaucoma and no longer can drive.


As part of training, volunteers at Vision Resource Center of Berks County practice moving around with a blindfold, so they will have a better understanding of how to guide clients. Volunteer Frank Paull, Exeter Township, at left, walks with Mark Millisock, Muhlenberg Township.



Vince Chiles


Lisa Lorah


Lori Schermerhorn


Josh Encarnacion


Karen Marsdale


Chris Spanier

Across Berks County, various organizations provide an array of specialized services for residents, and collectively they share a continual need for volunteers — people who generously give their time and talents to help others, and in return, often find themselves enriched by the experience.

For people who want to volunteer but are unsure where or how to get started, the United Way of Berks County provides key information. A visit to the website,, reveals a host of opportunities from single events to long-term commitments for more than 119 agencies. Volunteers can match their skills and talents using a keyword search.

“This is a great resource for anyone interested in volunteering or looking for volunteers,” said Chris Spanier, United Way marketing/communications director. “There are more than 100 opportunities available.”

The volunteer Web page offers information on how to get started and specific opportunities for people of all ages, from high school students to age 55 and over and especially retirees, who may be seeking ways to use their experience and talents to get involved.

Such is the case with volunteer James Lengel, 71, of Exeter Township. As a former Antietam elementary school teacher, he is now using his experience and skills to help students in the Ready. Set. Read! initiative managed by United Way.

Started in 2012, the program involves 376 volunteers working with students in 29 elementary schools in 12 school districts, Spanier said. The goal is to have 90 percent of Berks County third-graders be proficient readers by 2023, as measured by Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, test scores. To accomplish this, volunteers, such as Lengel, read to students.

“My oldest daughter, Dr. Kelly Lengel, a psychologist, heard about the program and contacted me,” James Lengel said. “She and her sister attended 16th & Haak Elementary School when they were children, and she wanted to give back to the school by helping students and asked me to join her.”

Every Thursday, the Lengels spend 45 minutes reading to four students after school. The children also take turns reading and writing in their journals, usually answering a question related to the stories read and/or their Basal reading textbook.

“This is our second year volunteering, and we feel like the students are making positive progress,” said Lengel, who enjoys the weekly visits as much as the students.

'It's very rewarding'

Similarly, Frank Paull, 68, of Exeter Township looks forward to his time with the clients of the Vision Resource Center of Berks County, 2020 Hampden Blvd. He volunteers to drive people with visual impairments to appointments, activities and to do errands.

“I like helping other people; it’s very rewarding,” Paull said, explaining that as part of the training, he was blindfolded and had to walk around to learn how to help clients navigate. “It was a learning experience and made me appreciate their situations.”

“I meet a lot of nice people,” said Rick Klahr, 68, of Boyertown, who also volunteers at VRC. “I am amazed at their positive attitudes, and it makes me appreciate what I have.”

The VRC is grateful for the assistance of the volunteers.

“We take whatever commitment our volunteers can make,” said VRC President/ CEO Lori Schermerhorn, noting they screen and conduct background checks. “We have a pool of 20 to 30 volunteers who help per month.”

For more information about these opportunities, go online to

Males especially needed

While organizations need a variety of volunteers, some need males to help in specific roles.

Josh Encarnacion, a case manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Berks County, 303 Windsor St., said his organization needs male volunteers.

“We have about 80 kids on our waiting list and 75 of those are boys,” he said. “We can match Big Sisters with the boys, but we try to find Big Brothers since they are often missing male mentors in their lives.”

To become a Big Brother or Big Sister, volunteers need to be Berks County residents who are at least 19 years old and meet the other general requirements listed on the BBBSBC website, For the oneon-one mentoring program, volunteers commit about 8 to 10 hours per month for a minimum of one year.

“People think they need to do special activities, but really all they need to do is involve them in everyday activities, like helping in the garden,” Encarnacion said. “It’s easy to make a positive impact, and many mentors develop longlasting relationships. Mentees often become mentors when they are adults.”

In addition to mentoring, Big Brothers Big Sisters offers opportunities such as the Students and Mentors Achieving Results Together, or SMART, school-based mentoring and the Club of Unmatched Littles, COUL, programs.

“These programs are great opportunities for volunteers who can’t commit 8 to 10 hours, but still want to help,” he added.

Veterans wanted

Another organization, Covenant Home Health, 1223 Pottsville Pike, Shoemakersville, seeks volunteers to help with its patients and families, including its veterans program.

“We are always in need of volunteers, particularly veteran volunteers for our veterans program,” explained Vince Chiles, a licensed clinical social work and volunteer coordinator. “Many veterans have experiences of war and peace times that require the empathy of other veterans.”

While this role is often filled by male veterans, all volunteers are welcome. Volunteers assist veterans with activities, including participating in specific holidays and appreciation ceremonies. They also spend time with them reading and playing cards and relieving caretakers who need respite.

“We have college students working on a history project in which they conduct video interviews of veterans,” Chiles explained. “The information is submitted to the Library of Congress, which creates a webpage for each veteran.” For more information about volunteering, visit

Throughout the county and especially in Reading, volunteers are needed to deliver Meals on Wheels to residents. The Berks County Area on Aging funds these programs through contracts with Berks Encore, Boyertown Area Multi-Service Inc., Family First Resource Center and The Centro Hispano Daniel Torres.

“Volunteers fill out a short application and then are assigned a specific route and day,” explained Lisa Lorah, the director of center operations for Berks Encore. “It is up to volunteers how often they want to deliver meals. Friends often volunteer together and make the time even more fun.”

Meals on Wheels

While delivering a hot noon-time meal is the main priority, Meals on Wheels also serves as a daily check for housebound residents.

“We expect most people to be at home, and if no one answers, we will call the emergency contact person,” Lorah said.

Anyone interested in volunteering at one of the Berks Encore centers, can call 610-374-3195, ext. 214. For other locations, visit United Way’s website, or the BCAA’s website, bit. ly/1pAzC0t.

As volunteers discover, volunteering is rewarding in myriad ways: helping and mentoring others, giving back to the community and developing new friendships.

At the Greater Berks Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 201 Penn St., volunteers have a wide-range of opportunities to share their skills and knowledge, including committee positions, leading initiatives and implementing programs, said Karen Marsdale, senior vice president, who has worked at the chamber for more than 18 years.

“Volunteers expand upon the knowledge and capacity of the 12 employees here,” she said. “It would be impossible to conduct all the events and provide resources to the community without the help of volunteers.”

She cited the Chamber’s recent Young Leaders Conference, which included workshops, speakers and oneon-one mentoring with high school students. More than 200 volunteers were involved with the networking conference during which students learned about different career pathways.

When recruiting and working with volunteers, Marsdale explained, it’s important to let people know the time commitment and expectations and to match people’s skills to the opportunities.

“You don’t want to overextend volunteers,” she said. “Sometimes it’s best to ask them to handle smaller responsibilities at first to see what they can handle and where they will best fit. As people continue volunteering, they develop skills and realize what they enjoy doing.”

For information about opportunities at the Reading Area Chamber, visit /

Contact Diane VanDyke: .

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