Men IN Action READ Program Connects Male Volunteers With Local Elementary Students
Writer / Melissa Gibson
One book, 484 men, and every elementary school in Hendricks County make for one of the most exciting community experiences of the year.
If you’ve already participated in the event, chances are you’ll return, but if you haven’t yet signed up, the couple of hours it takes to participate is well worth the time.
Men IN Action READ is once again returning for a morning of inspiration on March 14. Sheltering Wings, a nonprofit organization offering shelter to domestic abuse survivors along with many initiatives to educate and encourage the public, hosts the Men IN Action program, and the READ initiative was created under the men’s group.
Since 2019, men across the county have registered to read a previously selected book to an elementary classroom in their area on one special day, and the results are encouraging.
“We meet at a designated spot for each school district, receive a book, a T-shirt and breakfast,” says Melissa Echerd, prevention and education officer for Sheltering Wings. “Everyone checks in through the background check system for the school, and then typically one of our Men IN Action committee members addresses the group. They share a little about the book and how it connects to the 40 developmental assets.”
In 2024 the selected book is “Sophia Valdez, Future Prez” by Andrea Beaty, and those developmental assets are simply goals Sheltering Wings uses to identify positive life experiences and qualities needed in the lives of successful young people. They include goals like support, empowerment, boundaries, positive values and a commitment to learning. Beaty’s book contains 25 of the 40 assets.
The men then disperse to their assigned school and administrators lead them to a specific classroom. From there, they read to the class and ask three or four age-appropriate questions to help engage with the students.
Every teacher will receive the book for their classroom library, and a resource packet with a variety of ways they can apply the story to other subjects in the classroom throughout the day.
The entire morning takes under two hours to complete, and each time Men IN Action READ concludes, the feedback is exciting.
Echerd says teachers have commented about the students’ positive reactions and men have said they enjoyed reading to the kids as much as the kids enjoyed it. Most importantly, the students are experiencing a positive connection with men in the community.
Why men? Why reading?
“We want to achieve a couple of things,” Echerd says. “First, we’re showing the students that this man chose to take time out of his day to support your education, your success, and he’s here for you and wants to see you thrive in the classroom and the community.”
Secondly, bringing men in the community together benefits them as well.
“When these men come together, they are able to see the impact they’re making in a young person’s life,” Echerd says. “When you volunteer it always feels great, but when you volunteer in this mass quantity together, it stays with you. You can feel it.”
One common question the Sheltering Wings team hears is, “What is the connection between Men IN Action READ and the prevention of domestic violence?”
Echerd says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a clear correlation between the engagement of positive male role models and the prevention of violence.
“This starts at a young age,” Echerd says. “When kids see a positive male role model showing behaviors like respect, integrity, trust and consent, they’re more likely to make better choices.”
With this goal in mind, Men IN Action is a program meant to encourage men in the community to lead as mentors and to positively impact those around them.
“At Sheltering Wings we are working on violence prevention and that can go beyond domestic violence,” Echerd says. “Our Men IN Action group exists simply to share with men what their role is in the prevention of violence. We want them to know they have an influence in whatever that circle is, whether it be family, work, coaching, troop leaders or volunteers.”
Some men volunteer at Sheltering Wings, but the committee also connects men with other nonprofits in the area and new opportunities are constantly surfacing.
After several READ events, several school corporations have reached out, asking if they can make Men IN Action READ an event that continues throughout the year – one more way for men to get involved.
The organization is tapping into a younger generation too, encouraging high school men to join in the leadership program.
“Last year we engaged with high school principals to see if there were male students who wanted to get involved,” Echerd says. “We had juniors and seniors from various sports teams and clubs join in, and it was so cool to see that multigenerational impact.”
The connections can even extend out into the community.
READ volunteers have reported seeing a student out on a field trip while they are at work, and you might catch a proud Men IN Action READ volunteer in their T-shirt, walking through the supermarket or attending a community event.
“They know they were a part of something big and it made such an impact in our schools,” Echerd says. “In turn, we have opportunities to make the connection between Men IN Action READ and Sheltering Wings and the prevention of violence, and that is super important.”