Breakfast Club volunteers rise early, help children learn to read

by Kate Paulman

Every Thursday, junior Kathryn Fenneman has to be ready to go by 6:15 a.m.

But Fenneman, a leader of Simpson’s Breakfast Club, doesn’t seem to mind.

“Yeah, it is hard to get up,” Fenneman said. “When I get back, I’m so full of energy because the kids’ energy exudes into everyone and everything they’re around.”

Fenneman has been involved with Breakfast Club – a morning program for children at Des Moines’ Moulton Elementary – since her second semester at Simpson. Breakfast Club is run by Children and Family Urban Ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church, which is right across the street from Moulton.

The volunteers don’t spend all their time studying though, they also get to play with the children.

“We play – a lot,” Fenneman said,. “They have jump ropes, hula hoops, stilts that they’re amazing at, any game you could possibly imagine.”

Junior Dan Zepeda has been coming to Breakfast Club on and off since his freshman year.

“It’s just fun coming in and knowing that you can brighten up a kid’s day – maybe if he was having a rough time at home,” Zepeda said. “Playing with them, talking with them, it can just make a change in their lives.”

The kids seem to like playing, too.

“It’s good for us, because we don’t always have to be bored all the time,” said Ricky SanDogeal, a sixth grader who has been coming to Breakfast Club since he was in third grade.

But Breakfast Club isn’t all fun and games. Every other week, the time is used as a Power Hour to help the children with reading.

“There’s both good and bad to it,” Fenneman said. “The kids kind of fight Power Hour sometimes. But, some of them really enjoy it and really get into the reading. It’s always fun when one runs up to you and says, ‘Will you read to me?'”

The Club does Power Hour on Thursdays because of the positive impact Simpson’s volunteers have on the children, according to Carmen Lampe Zietler, executive director of CFUM.

“Not every child comes here wanting to read,” Lampe Zietler said. “But if a Simpson student invites them to sit down with them and read, that’s going to happen. It’s the Simpson students [who] really make the Power Hour work.”

Lampe Zietler said the Power Hour is crucial to the students at Breakfast Club because Moulton is known as a school “in need of assistance” under the No Child Left Behind Act. That means students’ test scores in math and reading need to be improved.

“They haven’t lost funding yet but they are on that list of heightened concern,” Lampe Zietler said.

About 8 volunteers from Simpson come on a regular basis. According to Lamp Zietler, they’re not just playing with the children or reading to them – they’re learning something, too.

“I think one of the things that can happen in this setting is just a connection and a better understanding of different cultures,” Lampe Zietler said. “And children are really a great window into those cultures. We really see the best of cultures in children.”

Lampe Zietler said the experience more than makes up for the volunteers’ early mornings.

“I’ve heard Simpson students say over the years that it’s so hard to get up and out and to the van, but they’re always so glad they’ve come,” Lampe Zietler said. “It’s a good thing, but it takes some kind of person to get up and going that early.”

Fenneman, apparently, is that kind of person.

“It’s definitely worth it,” Fenneman said. “I would come up here every morning if I could.”