Reach Out and Read Kansas City Advisory Board Chair Cathy McCaddon with
her grandson, Joe.
At 2 p.m. most Wednesdays, you’ll find Reach Out and Read Board Chair Cathy McCaddon at Vibrant Health in Kansas City, Kansas, straightening up books and asking children whether she can read a story to them. “I love it,” she says. “I sit in the waiting room with a big cart of books that Reach Out and Read has provided…and I’ll say ‘you want to come over? We’re reading a book.’ And often their older brother or sister will come as well.” Most of Vibrant’s patients speak Spanish, and Cathy even took a few Spanish classes so that she could communicate with them more effectively. “It really helped, even just to know a few of the words,” she says.
In a way, Cathy’s volunteer work with ROR-KC is the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. She majored in elementary education at Southern Methodist University, but never became a teacher. Instead, she turned her talents to the world of banking and real estate finance, and had a long and successful career. A Prairie Village native, Cathy retired from KeyBank a few years ago, and learned about ROR-KC through her involvement in the local Pi Beta Phi alumnae club. “It’s a perfect fit! I love being around the children. That’s the teaching side of me that I always missed.”
Cathy joined the Advisory Board nearly three years ago and became Chair in July. She’s already on a mission to build stronger relationships with large companies that have a significant local presence. “I know from being in the corporate sector that that’s really how you tend to get funding…a corporate foundation is much more likely to be willing to put some money forth if they have an employee who advocates for the nonprofit, and that’s where I think we need to look for more financial support.”
She’s also actively engaged in bringing in new board members with a wide range of talents. Last month, she and Executive Director Jenny Horsley interviewed six potential new board members. “I’m trying to get…people with a more diverse skill set: people from larger corporations, people from smaller corporations, people with fundraising expertise, people who have a background in literacy, early childhood development – all of those things will help strengthen the board.”
Cathy is also a mom (two grown-up daughters) and a grandmother (two grandsons, one three months old, the other one year old). She and her husband, Joe, travel as often as they can to see their children and grandchildren in Chicago, and Cathy says she is realizing just how important the ROR-KC message of reading aloud daily to your children is. “I’m seeing it first-hand with my own grandchildren, and it makes so much sense to me.” She says it’s reinforcement like this that brings home why she remains active with ROR-KC. “It is truly the mission of that early childhood development; that first 1000 days, that I feel no other literacy group targets as well as Reach Out and Read.”
Reach Out and Read is lucky to have Cathy as its Board Chair. Thanks for spending your time and energy promoting early childhood literacy in our community, Cathy!
Want to hear more from Cathy? You’re in luck! Here’s a transcript of our interview:
How did you get involved with Reach Out and Read Kansas City?
“When I looked at retirement coming up, I knew volunteering would be more in my future than it had been in my past and I thought, “this is a perfect fit for me and what I’m interested in and I really believe in the mission of this organization. I actually got connected with it through the Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club. At that point, Reach Out and Read was looking for new board members and said to the Pi Phi group, ‘you’ve had a contribution to this organization, do you have anyone who’d be interested in serving,’ and I just shot my hand up and said definitely.”
What are some of your goals as Chair of Reach Out and Read?
“I feel that we need to establish more of a presence with corporations that have a large local presence. I feel even KeyBank where I worked…we have probably 400 people here. We’re not a local bank but we have a presence and I feel that there are a lot of corporations like that. I know from being in the corporate sector that a corporate foundation is much more likely to be willing to put some money forth if they have an employee who advocates for the nonprofit, and that’s where I think we need to look for more financial support.”
You’re interviewing a lot of potential new board members now. How’s that going?
“Yes, 6 recently. I still struggle with the diversity part of it. That’s just hard, because, you know, it’s how this always works is, it’s word-of-mouth and I know somebody who knows somebody, and so you tend to be kind of staying in the same circles. Certainly, we are trying to get people with a diverse skill set. People from larger corporations, people from smaller corporations, people with fundraising expertise, people that have a background in literacy, early childhood development -all of those things will help strengthen the board.”
What is it about Reach Out and Read that drew you in – and makes you want to stay involved?
“It is truly the mission of that early childhood development; that first 1000 days, that I feel no other literacy group really targets as well as Reach Out and Read. I mean, at a first well child visit you get a book, and now, for me personally, I’m seeing it first-hand with my own grandchildren and it makes so much sense to me as somebody who was involved with teaching and thought that was important.”
You also volunteer as a reader at one of our clinics (Vibrant Health in KCK). What has that experience been like for you?
“I love it. I think it really made me understand what the program’s all about – once you see the children. I just sit in a waiting room with a big cart of books that Reach Out and Read has provided for that clinic, and I straighten up those books every time I go; they’re all messed up so I know kids have been going through them. I’ll say (to a child) you want to come over? We’re reading a book, and often times their older brother or sister will come as well, and I really like seeing that family dynamic of the older siblings- they help the young. At Vibrant Health, oftentimes the parents don’t speak English but the older siblings do, so that’s really your “in” with the parents or the younger siblings – you’ll say, do you want to help us read this book? And they’ll say OK, or they’ll explain that their younger sibling or parent doesn’t speak much English. The family ties are so strong, and it is really great to see, and almost every parent is very happy that I’m reading to their child and they might act uninterested at first – but then slowly they’re listening and watching and I see them smile. I think the point of having readers (at the clinic) is to mirror a behavior that you want those parents to follow in reading to their children.”
Is it fulfilling?
“Yes. I love being around the children. That’s the teaching side of me that I always missed. That’s great, but it also really helps me to understand a little more about the clinic environment about what those workers are going through there. It’s hard and it’s not just the language barrier. I also see people come in there who are not Spanish-speaking and I’m like, oh, I’m in trouble here. After I started volunteering, I signed up last year for a Spanish class, and took a few classes. It really helped, even just to know a few of the words, and all of this is beneficial to me, as well. You know, you hear about using the other side of your brain, keeping your brain active, and I think it’s a great outlet for retired people, so I think that would be another group that we should target in our volunteer program.”
What’s your favorite children’s book?
“Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. That is the book my daughters liked the best and I loved watching them really go to sleep at the end of it.”
Do you have a favorite reading-based memory?
“I remember in grade school walking to the library in the summer and checking out books and I just always loved having the book and turning the pages. I’m not an extremely avid reader, but I am becoming more so in retirement but I still love the book, not the kindle. Just turning the page and holding the book, and thinking, there’s just so much excitement – there’s something interesting in that book that’s going to make your imagination go – a book is exciting.”