Time on his hands and a teacher's knowledge of the worlds that reading can unlock led Todd Williams to volunteer for a program aimed at helping third-graders move on to the fourth grade.
Thousands of children across central Ohio face the prospect of not achieving that goal if they do not pass a newly mandated reading proficiency test this spring that they failed in October.
Williams, 62, is doing his part to help some youngsters make the grade.
The Northland resident is a volunteer in the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Reading Buddies initiative, which pairs central Ohio students with members of the library's staff, participants in the VolunTeen program and vetted community volunteers for one-on-one reading practice.
The Reading Buddies initiative, part of a collaborative effort unveiled last month with Columbus City Schools to help children and their families meet the challenge of Ohio's new third-grade reading guarantee, is offered at the Main Library and all 20 branches.
Williams participates in the program at the Karl Road Branch.
"Reading is very, very important," he said last week. "I learned that when I was teaching."
Williams, who grew up in Atlantic City, N.J., taught elementary and middle school for four years in the Atlanta area. That experience showed him, he said, that reading is the key to children grasping a host of subjects in school.
The Reading Buddies program is offered at the Karl Road Library from 5 to 6 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. Hours and days vary at the other branches.
Williams moved to Columbus two and a half years ago to be closer to his children, a son who lives in the city and a daughter in Cleveland. He's had some serious health problems since relocating, including triple bypass surgery and a cancer diagnosis.
"Now I'm healthy, but I'm out on disability so I wanted to do something positive with my time," Williams said.
The Reading Buddies initiative perfectly fit the bill, given his background in education.
"When I grew up, we didn't like reading, but we didn't have anyone really to encourage us," Williams said.
The 15-minute sessions with children are enjoyable, he added.
"It's just the satisfaction of coaching a child to read," Williams said. "It's a great satisfaction for a teacher.
"You've got to have a knack with kids, but I would definitely encourage others."
The library system currently has 121 active Reading Buddies volunteers, according to Ben Zenitsky, marking and communications specialist.
There is always room for more, he indicated.
"The response from the community has been great, and having too many volunteers is rarely a bad thing," Zenitsky wrote in an email.
"Interested students and families can stop in any CML location and find the Reading Buddies station in the children's area," according to the announcement of the initiative.
Adults interested in joining the program may complete an online volunteer application.