For a group of Bains Lower Elementary students, gifts arrived last week thanks to a grant from Entergy’s Riverbend Station in St. Francisville.

The 25 students are part of the Reader Leader program, which is designed to help first graders improve their reading skills by pairing them with adult volunteers. Stephanie Ferguson conceived the program five years ago to promote early childhood literacy by partnering community volunteers with students to provide reading support. It has grown to 30 volunteers who work with 25 children.

Teachers recommend students from the seven first-grade classes, and each volunteer sets aside 30 minutes every week to work one-on-one. They develop important skills such as decoding, sight word recognition and vocabulary development. They also share the joy of reading for pleasure.

As a reward for participating in the program, Entergy provided a $400 grant to purchase 100 reading-level books, which were presented to the students Dec. 17.

Natalie Wood, a design engineer at River Bend, purchased and distributed the books to the students and said early childhood education is one of the main focuses of Entergy’s corporate giving program.

“I’m so grateful to them for donating that money and for being involved in our schools and in our community,” said Ferguson. “It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to give them books for Christmas. It really warms my heart that so many people will volunteer to come and read with the children.

“These books give the children an earlier encouragement to keep reading. At Christmas time, it makes it that much more special since it goes to their homes.”

Richard Kendrick is a second-year volunteer with Reader Leader, and he said the program is just as rewarding to him as it is for his reading buddy, De’Wayne.

“My little guy was really excited,” said Kendrick. “He was struggling a good bit at the beginning of the year with reading, and he tells me he’s excited now to practice every day with the books when he gets home. For me, it’s such a simple thing to do to give up one morning to read with a child. All I have to worry about is sitting down and reading with him.”

For information about Reader Leader or to sign up, email or call Ferguson at (225) 535-0005.