Rotary helps kids look it up

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Littleton Rotary is on a mission to prevent hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia among students at Centennial Academy.

No, it’s not their latest health cause like Shots for Tots or Project CURE. Neither is it a service project to help lonely hippopotamuses (or hippopotami, if you prefer). It’s the fear of long words, and Rotary is battling it with free dictionaries and thesauruses (or thesauri).

“They’ve really been just so helpful in getting the materials we need,” said teacher Stacey Helbig. “It makes their writing so much better. It encourages them to think more and make better word choices.”

Rotarians Darlee Whiting and Dale Flowers visited the school Sept. 26 to deliver the books, but neither is a stranger to the school. Whiting, the Littleton club’s first female president, taught there before she retired. It’s where she started Rotary’s I Can Read program, pairing members with students for one-on-one reading time.

“I saw this sea of people out there, and I thought, ‘We need to get them involved in this school,’” she said. “It’s great that there are these positive male figures, gentle, intelligent and caring, who come in and work with some of these kids.”

Flowers recalled his first little reader, a timid little girl who got picked on a lot.

“I saw the door open, then I saw her little tiny face, then she came running down the hall with her arms wide,” he said. “It melted me.”

Veronica Zabala, 17, was the day’s added bonus. She’s visiting from the Philippines through Rotary’s Youth Exchange Program, and tagged along to read with the kids. She is here for the whole school year, attending Heritage High School and staying with the family of Olivia Holt, who spent a year in Belgium as part of the program.

“It’s been difficult, but I’m having fun meeting new friends and getting to serve the community,” said Zabala. “I also like little children, that’s why I volunteered to read.”

Zabala said she volunteers on service projects with Rotary in her hometown, too, something the Littleton group, which celebrated its 90th birthday this year, would love to see more of. Without some younger faces, many of the club’s good deeds could go by the wayside: Books for Babies, Littleton Free Clinic, Breakfast with Santa, Flower Power and Hands Across Littleton, and scholarships for students, just to name a few.

“We love our association with Rotary and all the senior volunteers who come and help us,” said Centennial’s principal, Mary Ellen Dillman. “It’s a wonderful partnership.”