A true community partnership with reciprocal benefits to the participating organizations and the individuals and families receiving its services is often sought, but seldom achieved. Ten years ago, when former Charles B. Washington Branch Manager John Bernardi identified Humanities Nebraska’s PRIME TIME FAMILY READING TIME® as a potential solution to addressing North Omaha’s literacy development, he also recognized that the program fulfilled a need with older children, but left a gap with younger kids.
PRIME TIME is a six week shared reading experience for families with children ages 6-10. Attendees eat a meal together, followed by story-sharing, interactive reading with a group leader, and fun comprehension activities. The program helps families to discover great stories and books together. Yet, many families with children in the program’s age range have younger siblings, and Washington Branch did not have the structure or staff available to work with the younger children.
This is where Dr. Mitzi Ritzman, Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), came into the picture. Ritzman is involved with UNO’s Service Learning Academy, which aims to bridge the campus with the community through its students. Initial conversations between Bernardi and Ritzman exposed the opportunity for graduate students in speech-language pathology to work with children ages birth to 5 years, along with their caregivers.
“Students often enter this opportunity with a detailed plan, but it turns into a conversation,” said Ritzman. “The depth of learning for our students is well beyond what they could achieve in a simulation. It helps them to realize who they are as a person and who they want to be as a professional.”
This community collaboration is still going strong. Though staff and students have transitioned over the years, and the program has evolved based on communication between the library and UNO, the partnership has resulted in a great outcome for the community.
“I’m exceptionally proud of the longevity and legacy of this partnership. It’s gratifying to do this work and be able to tell our story in a different way,” said Ritzman.
OPL staff is also grateful for what Dr. Ritzman and her students do for OPL’s North Omaha patrons.