Masons across Texas are discovering the many rewards of reading to youngsters. As part of the Take Time To Read program, Texas Masons are teaming up with their local libraries and schools to read to children, collect books through book drives, and reap the rewards of glowing eyes, smiling faces and eager listeners.
 
Take Time To Read is being practiced in more than 200 of the 900 Lodges across the state, such as Fort Hancock No. 1297 in West Texas. Jack Bryant said that District 30B has 3,000 children involved in Take Time To Read. “We got all of Huspeth County to take part,” he said. In addition, Bryant has visited lodges in Kansas and New Mexico to spread the word, which resulted in five Lodges in Kansas and three in New Mexico participating in Take Time To Read.
 
“This is the most successful program by participation we’ve ever had,” said Brian Dodson, chair of the special projects committee for the statewide program. “Lodges across the nation, including three other Grand Lodges, have asked about the program, and Scottish Rite organizations, Rainbow and other community groups are taking part.
 
“Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children is co-sponsoring the program with the Grand Lodge of Texas. “We have a long history of working together successfully on programs for children,” said Elizabeth Cantrill, outreach coordinator for the Luke Waites Child Development Center at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.    “We help provide the knowledge of the importance and benefits of reading aloud to children, while Masons are the experts on actively lending support. The best way to blanket the state with the message is to get the Masons involved.”
 
Reading experts agree that reading aloud to children may be one of the most important things that adults can do to prepare kids for success in school.  Their vocabulary is enriched, they learn new information and the experiences of their world are expanded, Being read to can create a love for books and generate a desire to read.

In Bellaire, Texas, the local Masons are doing just that. Working together with City Manager and fellow Mason John Pape and librarian Mary Hallford, Dwight Phillips led the charge to read aloud to children at the local library, as well as collecting books to donate to the library’s cache.
 
“We read on a regular basis all summer,” said Phillips, “We bring a new book to read each time, which we donate, plus many used books that we collect,” Midway through the program, Masonic Lodge No, 1336 held a party at the library for all the participants and their parents, Along with the library staff, they dispensed certificates and lapel pins to proud kids, who took advantage of the cake, punch and balloons. The library added a petting zoo, which was very popular, and the Masons cooked hotdogs for everyone, “They ate nearly every hot dog we had,” recalled Phillips, laughing,
 
Recently, the Bellaire lodge sponsored a swim party for the Take Time To Read kids, Attendance was an astounding 250 to 300 people, “We’re going to continue the program as a community service, and encourage other lodges to do the same,” said Phillips, who is chairman of Masonic District No. 30B’s Take Time To Read program.
 
Lodges can participate in Take Time To Read at any time and continue it as long as they want. Participation especially is encouraged during Texas Public School Week held annually each March, During that week, Masons are invited to share the important historical role of Masons in Texas public schools while demonstrating support for the education of young people today. Keith Munnerlyn of Masonic Lodge No. 492 in Breckenridge, and his wife, read for an hour to first graders at East Elementary during Texas Public School Week this past March.

Book drives also are important ways to take part in the program. George Matuskey of Keystone Masonic Lodge No, 1143 in Dallas launched a successful book drive. He got more than 700 books donated from neighborhood mothers and Half Price Books in less than one month. A fellow lodge member made up “donated by” stickers to go in the books. Lena Ruth Harvey, wife of Past Grand Master Leonard Harvey, knew of a new school, Life Charter School, that needed books, “They had a new library but nothing in it,” said Matuskey, “The kids loved it. We had all different kinds of books. It was very rewarding.”

“An ideal time for a book drive is in February, so the Lodges can donate the books during Texas Public School Week in March,” said Cantrill. She suggested stamping the inside cover of the books with the Lodge name and placing Take Time To Read bookmarks inside to encourage reading aloud and develop awareness of the Masonic Lodges of Texas.
 
Coltharp Masonic Lodge No. 419 in Kennard Texas, led a school and community awareness program along with a book drive. Rodney Steed said the school administration and teachers were very eager, the community was delighted to find the Masons behind the drive, and the drive itself was extremely successful. In addition, the Masons continue to distribute literature at the school’s Open House and at day care centers.

Past Grand Master Mike Gower is proud of the Texas Masons and the vision they have demonstrated in bringing forth Take Time To Read. “This program makes a real difference in the lives of children and impacts their future,” he said. ” I think it will prove to be one of the best projects that Grand Lodge has participated in and I am hopeful that the program will continue to expand.
 
Steed offered this advice to other Masonic Lodges: “Let your family and friends volunteer as well as members. They will be your main support group. Use senior citizens. Use the media.” (Steed took part in a local radio interview about the program.) “This is a most rewarding effort,” he added. “Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children has been wonderful in helping with this program. I can’t think of anything they haven’t done or wouldn’t do to support us.”

A handbook, distributed by the hospital, outlines ways that Masonic Lodges can take part, from distributing brochures and instigating book drives, to reading aloud at home, at libraries and at schools. The hospital also has bookmarks and certificates of recognition available to celebrate Take Time To Read. A start-up kit includes three posters, 50 brochures, 50 certificates, 50 bookmarks and a video.
 
To start a Take Time To Read program in your community, call Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children at 1-800-421-1121 and ask for Elizabeth Cantrill or Susan Dyess.