Woman sitting with girl holding books

Unlocking Potential through Reading as A Book Buddy Volunteer

Juliet Nabinger, employee benefits senior specialist at OneGroup and Book Buddies Volunteer, shares how her experience reading to children in the Syracuse City School District has become the best part of her week.

Written By: Juliet Nabinger, employee benefits senior specialist at OneGroup and Book Buddies Volunteer

The 2022/2023 school year was my first time serving as a United Way of Central New York Book Buddy volunteer with the Syracuse City School District. The opportunity came across my company chat board. I work at OneGroup Risk Management and Insurance, and we continuously partner with the United Way of Central New York, so when I saw the post about Book Buddies, I decided to look into it.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to the volunteer opportunity, or if I’d be able to do it with my work schedule; but the introductory information session was so informative and helped me understand why this program is so important to the community. It was through that information session that I began to reflect on my own upbringing and public education experience. I was privileged to grow up with a wealth of resources and opportunities to learn and grow.

Something that particularly stayed with me was during the introductory information session when the presenter mentioned that kids in kindergarten- to 2nd grade are “learning to read” and later move on to “reading to learn”. If they haven’t mastered their reading skills at a certain point, that automatically puts them behind when it comes to learning everything else.

Group of adults standing in a classroom

It was at that moment that I decided I wanted to help make sure kids in our community have the reading skills they need in order to be successful. Luckily, I work at a company that encourages community involvement and volunteer time; my manager was fully on board and allowed me to take an hour and a half out of my workday once a week in order to give back.

That hour and a half of my day every Thursday quickly became the best part of my week, and something I always looked forward to. I knew I’d feel fulfilled by being able to help children with their reading skills, but I underestimated just how impactful the relationship between the student and their Book Buddy can be.

Being a part of the Book Buddies program makes the students feel special and chosen, and they love getting to hang out with their Buddy. Throughout the semester, I was able to form meaningful connections with these students and see their reading skills progress. It was so eye-opening to see how a small amount of time and individual attention can transform these kid’s reading skills, social skills, and attitudes towards learning.

I truly enjoyed my time being a Book Buddy volunteer and I highly recommend the experience to all who want to give back to the community. I can’t wait to continue to volunteer in the future!


The Community Foundation recently provided a $50,000 to the United Way of CNY to support the operating costs of the Book Buddies program that provides one-on-one volunteer based reading assistance to children in the Syracuse City School District.

The United Way of Central New York is looking for Book Buddy volunteers for the upcoming school year. If you are interested in volunteering as Book Buddy, please click here or contact Laurie Black at bookbuddies@unitedway-cny.org or 315.428.3941.

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