When Bonnie Waters picked up Lola M. Schaefer’s Look Behind! Tales of Animal Ends on the Green Friday, she was looking behind at her own life, as well. And helping a young girl look ahead.
Waters, a lifelong New Havener who is now 26, got her start reading almost 20 years ago with Leadership, Education & Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), which she began attending in 1997 as a shy 7-year-old from Edgewood.
Friday morning, she joined dozens of volunteers and hundreds of LEAP students and counselors on the New Haven Green, where the organization was hosting its annual read-in for upwards of 500 summer campers from elementary to high school.
It was her first time on the volunteer side of the program, Waters said; it won’t be her last.
For her, now a unit clerk in the observation unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital, it was a chance to reflect on her own time as a camper, leader-in-training, and senior counselor at LEAP, which she credits with her success in high school and as a student at Southern Connecticut State University.
Now that Waters has seen herself through a college education, it was time to keep an eye on the extended Elm City family that raised her to succeed.
“I always want to give back,” she said. “This is a program that taught me, and gave me reasons to do more. LEAP taught me how to have a lot of goals, and to push myself—but also to actually embrace where you come from, to embrace and learn and experience it. A lot of kids don’t get that opportunity.”
It’s a beautiful thing “when they [students] do have mentors,” she added. And Friday, it was. Seated around her on the Green, a gaggle of 7- and 8-year-old girls leaned in close, hanging on to every word of Look Behind!. Hands shot up when Waters asked questions about the plot, which tells the stories behind animals’ rear ends. Mouths went agape as she marched out new factoids.
Crouched at the front, just inches from Waters’ feet, 7-year-old Linae Lucas keep her eyes glued to each page, pointing out the bright illustration and the repetition of the word “butt” from time to time.
After Waters finished the book and it was time for students to do their own directed reading, Linae explained why the read-in, after her first year as a student at LEAP, had had such an impact for her.
“I want to be a teacher,” she said. “I wanna teach reading and math. Like Miss Bonnie.”