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The Klamath Falls branch of Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) is getting statewide recognition for its promotion for childhood literacy.

A video crew based out of Portland started filming founding and current members of the organization on Wednesday and the crew is at Stearns and Shasta Elementary schools to continue filming today.

The crew is creating a video showcasing the program, and this year selected the Klamath Falls program out of nine regional offices for its featured SMART site.

SMART partners community residents as well as high school students with Kindergarten through third-graders, providing a time and place where reading is shared and valued.

“So many things stand out about SMART in Klamath Falls,” said Jessica Bowersox, communications director for SMART, based in Portland. “We’ve heard a lot of it today around the Youth Advisory Board in particular is such a gem here in this area, where Holly (Stork) has created an opportunity for high school students to get engaged in SMART, to learn about community service, to also show through their involvement, a value of literacy and to model that for children in their community.”

Lacking a male perspective

Bowersox also praised the effort in Klamath Falls to recruit more male volunteers with the “Real Men Read” campaign.

“We have over 5,000 volunteers that we manage annually, and of that group of volunteers, about 80 percent are female,” Bowersox said. “Bringing men into the program is really, really key and that’s something they’ve been able to do really well here.”

With camera operators Zach Putnam and Viktoria Haiboniuk looking on, Bowersox posed questions to SMART participants on Wednesday, including Ray Holliday, of Holliday Jewelry, a long-time participant and supporter of SMART.

“It’s fabulous that we’ve reached this level, we’ve worked very hard,” Holliday told the Herald and News prior to sitting down for an interview with Bowersox and a camera crew from Zach Putnam of Portland.

Holliday has been a SMART reader for some 25 years, a 10-year member of the leadership council for the local branch, and a member of the state’s board of directors for the past few years.

“A lot of kids don’t have a parent at home to read to them or to encourage them to read,” Holliday said.

“With some kids, SMART helps in that aspect.”

“It’s not a stated goal of SMART to teach kids to read,” Holliday added. “It’s to help them learn to love to read. If they love to read and they see the benefits of reading, then they’re going to read.”

Growth in the program

Holliday is one of a number of local individuals who took part in interviews Wednesday as part of the organizational film. More interviews will take place today at Stearns and Shasta Elementary today.

Holliday also praised Holly Stork, who manages the local program, for its growth over the years.

“Holly has worked very hard to take it to amazing heights,” Holliday added.

The state board held its meeting in Klamath Falls in April, which prompted tours of local SMART programming and high praise from the organization. That visit also helped prompt Klamath Falls’ participation in the promotional video, which showcases how intertwined the organization is with the community at large.

Crucial community suport

“We have so much community support here, from the county commissioners, and local governments and the school districts, businesses and everything,” Holliday said. “They don’t see that in Portland and Eugene,” he added. “We’ve got more support here.”

Holliday noted there’s another reason Klamath Falls has so much support, as well.

“We have a bigger challenge than other communities do — we have to have that community support to serve almost all the kids in the county,” Holliday said.

While Holliday said the local SMART program doesn’t serve as many children compared to Portland or Eugene-area programs, the number of youth served in Klamath Falls for its size speaks volumes.

The organization started in four schools in Klamath Falls in the early to mid-1990s: Mills, Fairview, Stearns, and Altamont Elementary (which currently houses Triad School). That participation has grown to include many city and county schools, give or take a few.

Cecelia Amuchastegui, former city schools superintendent, was serving as principal of Mills Elementary when the Klamath Falls branch of SMART was founded. While she is enthusiastic about this year’s recognition, she is not a bit surprised by it.

A boost in confidence

“I think people forget about how unique Klamath Falls is and how we can really make things happen here,” Amuchastegui told the H&N.

Amuchastegui, a founding member of SMART and a former longtime SMART reader, said the program helps boost confidence for youth and makes them feel special.

“Getting one-on-one time for kids is so wonderful for kids,” she said.

Amuchastegui was among several local residents interviewed by the crew throughout the day as part of the promotional video.

“This is a great honor for Klamath Falls, and I think it’s a way to thank Klamath Falls for embracing the program,” she added.

Holliday added that SMART isn’t alone in garnering support from the community.

“We’re pooling our resources and that is what is really getting people’s attention,” Holliday said.

The video will be unveiled at SMART’s annual Alphabet Ball in early February 2019 in Portland.