CHAMPION Program fosters little bookworms

The program is designed to help young kids get excited about reading.
CHAMPION -- Five-year-old Ashley Devinney warily stretched her cupped hands toward volunteer Carol Mullen, and waited.
Mullen reached into a box full of damp, shredded newspapers, then glanced at the small girl.
"Are you sure?" she asked, pulling something from the box.
Ashley nodded, then held her breath when Mullen placed the slimy, squiggly worm in her palms.
Standing nearby, Ashley's mother, Wanda Houchen, smiled.
"She's not usually a worm person. I wanted to see this," Houchen said, watching as her daughter placed the creature into a "worm farm."
Ashley, her hands coated in worm gunk, looked up.
"I wanted to hold a worm," she said, her eyes serious behind gold-rimmed glasses. "It's my first time."
Ashley is one of more than 20 kindergarten and first-grade pupils attending a summer storytelling session at Kent State University's Trumbull Campus.
The four-day-long camp is sponsored by Trumbull County Reads, Retired Teachers of Trumbull County and the university.
Excitement of reading: "I just get excited about it," said Janet Russell, a program coordinator. "For this program, this little program, you have volunteers from higher education, retired teachers, libraries, youth leaderships. When you have so many involved, it will spread the message."
And that message is to get kids -- even those as young as 5 -- excited about reading.
"Any time you can come up with something they enjoy with books, you get them excited," Mullen said.
This one-hour workshop strives to do that by tying projects -- such as the worm farm -- into a reading theme.
All for it: Joe Vitale of Niles held a tiny pink book bag for his 5-year-old granddaughter, Miranda, while she carefully applied some lip balm.
Education is why he brings his grandchildren to workshops like these, he said. "The sooner you start them, the sooner they get a foothold in life. I'm a firm believer in education."
Teresa Norris of Hubbard echoed Vitale's sentiments while her daughter Shelby, 5, shyly played with her purple beaded necklace.
"She loves school," Norris said, watching her daughter head off toward the worm farm. "As long as they love it, we'll take advantage of it."
Alex Miller, 6, already held a worm in his hands. His friends, one on each side, marveled at his bravery.
"What's it feel like?" asked 6-year-old Kyle Noble of Cortland.
"Slimy and ticklish," Alex replied, then dumped the worm in the box with the rest of the wiggling pioneers. "I need a tissue."
He cleaned the slime from his hand then joined the rest of the kids in a circle.
Dancing away their energy, the kids jumped up, spun around, then scrambled for tiny squares of carpet. Silence filled the room.
It was story time.

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