Hawthorne Elementary School kindergarten students Jonas Rugabano (left) and Rileyann Brown are treated Friday to a delightful reading experience while lying on their classroom floor with Day of Caring volunteer Alisha Sylvester. Sylvester, who works at Boeing in 787 quality investigation, said she is a mom, so she’s had some experience with this before. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Volunteers turn out for United Way’s Day of Caring

It was a day of reading, painting and building. On United Way’s annual Day of Caring, volunteers all over Snohomish County did their best to help.

Whitney McKinney is a staff analyst with the Boeing 777X wing engineering program. It was a different story Friday. Her volunteer task was reading to kids at Everett’s Hawthorne Elementary School as part of a Day of Caring project with Page Ahead. The nonprofit provides children’s books and literacy services around the state.

“Sharks swim when they sleep — it sounds tiring,” McKinney, 28, said as she looked up from a shark book in Meghan Zender’s first-grade class at Hawthorne. Gathered around her were eager first-graders, some missing front teeth and all engrossed in shark facts she was reading aloud.

First-grader Luhizo Luhizo, part of another group in the classroom, was excited to be looking at “Captain America to the Rescue!” Thanks to Seattle-based Page Ahead, the paperback was his to take home.

At least 20 volunteers from the Boeing Co., YMCA of Snohomish County and the community joined in the reading project Friday. Jacki Crowther, Page Ahead’s book program manager, said the organization has supported literacy in Snohomish County schools for more than a decade.

Jessica Gaitan, volunteer engagement manager with United Way of Snohomish County, said Friday was the agency’s 23rd annual Day of Caring.

It also was a first. The local agency joined with United Way in King and Pierce counties for the Puget Sound Day of Caring.

“It’s the first time we’ve done it together, to have the same day, as far as we know,” Gaitan said. “It’s always around the same date, so we thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing this together?’”

On Thursday, Gaitan said she expected about 530 volunteers from 25 agencies to take part in 28 Day of Caring projects with the local United Way. Among Friday’s projects were helping on a Habitat for Humanity house under construction; working with seniors and people with disabilities at Full Life Care, an Everett adult day care center; and painting at a Friends of Youth transitional housing complex in south Everett.

Volunteers from Absolute Manufacturing in Arlington, a division of Senior Aerospace, worked on the Everett home being built by Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County. The home, just west of Broadway on 23rd Street, has risen from the site of a 2014 house fire. Helpers painted with primer and built a shed at the blue house that will soon be home to the Habitat partner family of Ray and Sandy Flores.

Derick Baisa, CEO of Absolute Manufacturing, headed a crew of about a dozen volunteers at the Habitat house.

“We’ve tried to boost United Way participation,” said Baisa, a member of the local United Way board of directors. With paintbrush in hand, Absolute Manufacturing program manager Kami Coker said she brought along her 17-year-old daughter, Karleigh Coker, to help.

At Hawthorne, literacy coach Julie Kaufman said Page Ahead has been involved with the school for several years. Page Ahead’s grant money, much of it contributed by Boeing employees, buys books for kids.

“Our kids get to keep these books,” Kaufman said of the books distributed Friday. “And at the end of last year, Page Ahead contributed enough books to be able to send a book home with every Hawthorne student.”

Also at Hawthorne on Friday was Jose Amoedo, an IT director for Boeing Commercial Airplanes who serves on the Page Ahead board.

Amoedo said another Page Ahead program, “Book Up Summer,” provides students with 12 books to take home at the end of the school year. “It’s designed to prevent summer slide,” he said. “We help the schools with the greatest needs.”

At Hawthorne, the needs are great. According to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Washington State Report Card, 87 percent of Hawthorne students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 49 percent are “transitional bilingual.” Kaufman said more than 15 languages are spoken at Hawthorne, and some students have come from refugee camps.

“A lot of our kids have no books at home. A lot of our kids might be the ones to go home and read to their parents who don’t speak English,” Kaufman said.

Day of Caring volunteer Ellen Morehouse wasn’t part of a corporate volunteer team.

The Everett woman decided to help at Hawthorne after seeing an email from United Way.

“I prefer reading to landscaping or painting,” Morehouse said. “Reading is something I can do.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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