Why has Rainbow Readers been so successful?
It is thought that the major factor leading to Doorstep Reading’s success is that the reading occurs on the family’s doorstep, which means that at no point in time do the volunteer readers enter the families’ home. Families have said that not having to get the family dressed and get to a venue makes it easier for them to be involved. Hence, it is not uncommon to pass a townhouse with a family spilling out the door still in their pyjamas and eating their breakfast while having Storytime. Would they have jumped at our original idea of Rainbow Readers being a playgroup in the community hall where reading was the focus? For the reasons above, and because we would have been going in cold and asking them to come along to a venue at a particular time for a particular activity, I suspect not. Rainbow Readers offers families a far more flexible interaction with the volunteers who over time got very skilled in knowing how to cater differently to each family to keep them engaged with Rainbow Readers.
It is these skilled volunteers that played a large part of the Rainbow Reader program’s success. Presenting to read with the families was never done in a vacuum and their weekly contact built rapport so well that families started to utilise the volunteers as a source of information about parenting, and other more general issues. This group of volunteers were astounding in their ability to maintain professional boundaries and perform their Rainbow Reader role while listening to the families, and giving them links to appropriate agencies (sometimes after consultation with the Project Co-ordinator)
Having a paid worker in the Project Co-ordinator role was a real asset. It gave the volunteers and families someone to contact who, in turn, was backed up by a team of Community/Family workers. In the three years there wasn’t a single crisis incident in either the FLAG Project or the Rainbow Readers program. However, had there have been there was a clear communication channel to get assistance if needed.
As mentioned earlier, regular events which included the Rainbow Reader volunteers and families were a real morale builder for everyone involved. Interestingly, in an independent survey of the Rainbow Reader volunteers, a number of them suggested that they would like more opportunities to socialise with each other outside of the Rainbow Reader timeslot. This was not something we anticipated they would say, and we were glad that we had the opportunity of having a 4th year Social Work student on placement with the Family Action Centre that was able to conduct volunteer interviews and tease that piece of information out for us to work with.
This constant process of evaluating and improving meant that Rainbow Readers started very differently than it ended, each week was a learning opportunity and we kept the lines of communication flowing between families, volunteers and Co-ordinator so as to keep the program relevant to all involved.