Education Stories of Impact

Jessica Holmes Shares Love of Reading


Jessica Holmes’ mom fostered a love of reading and learning in her daughter, and now Jessica is trying to do the same with the pre-school children in whose class she volunteers as a book mentor.

For the past seven years, she has been a book mentor for Illinois Public Media’s Book Mentor Project. At Rantoul Head Start, she reads a book to the children and helps them do a related activity. “The kids just love to be read to. They soak up everything,” said Jessica, who works in the accounting department at Credit Union 1 in Rantoul.  “I love looking at their faces.”

How did you become a book mentor?

I got involved through Rantoul Rotary. One of the mentors invited me to go with them when they volunteered, and I fell in love with it.

We understand that you go read to the Head Start kids on additional days besides Book Mentor Project days.

I really missed it during the six months of the year the Book Mentor Project isn’t active, so the teachers said I could come every month on my own and read to the kids. We do all kinds of fun things. Next month we’re going to read about penguins and I’m going to teach them the penguin dance.

What keeps you involved after so many years?

I just really enjoy the kids and the teachers. These kids are our future. They’re going to be the presidents, doctors, lawyers, bank tellers, mail carriers and other workers. Reading was so important to me as a child so I enjoy sharing books with these kids. If I had to give up some of my volunteer work, the last thing I would give up is being a book mentor.

What other volunteer work do you do?

Along with a lot of other people, I helped raise money for new playground equipment at Rantoul Head Start. I’m a director and actor with the Rantoul Theatre Company, and I’m active with Rotary.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Miss Twiggley’s Tree. She lived in a tree with her little dog. I just loved that book.

What is your favorite book that you have read to children?

“Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze.” I read this one with Barb Ridenour and Joe Murphy at Words in the Wind (a fundraiser for the Book Mentor Project).

Has being in theater helped you as you read to the children?

I think it has, but as I’ve become a more experienced book mentor, I’ve definitely learned to let go of some of my inhibitions. Now it’s okay to make noises and gestures while I’m reading, and just have fun with it.

Bridget Meis, in whose classroom Jessica volunteers, says the kids definitely pick up on Jessica’s energy and enthusiasm. “They can tell how much she cares about them, so they give that right back,” she said.

Illinois Public Media’s Book Mentor Project serves 42 classrooms and 720 families each year. The project trains volunteers come from local businesses, community service organizations, student associations and parent groups. The volunteers visit Head Start and early childhood classrooms where they read a book and do a related activity with the children.