Junior Ava Thompson founds FaceTime Storytime volunteer service

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Photo credit: Ava Thompson

A seven year old listens to junior Ava Thompson read Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" at the beginning of April. Thompson's volunteer service, FaceTime Storytime, has teenagers read to children between the ages of five and ten to provide distraction during quarantine. Thompson said this interaction was one of her most touching. "Afterwards, her mom sent me a picture of a thank you card she had written me," Thompson said. "It was very cute." Photo courtesy of FaceTime Storytime Instagram.

Inspiration comes in many forms — and for junior Ava Thompson, it came from a meeting with a teacher and a bag of childhood books from her garage.

At the end of March, Thompson had the idea to found FaceTime Storytime, a volunteer service in which teenagers read to younger children over video chat. The readings aim to provide children with entertainment and connection while enabling their parents to take a few minutes for themselves.

“I was having a meeting with one of my teachers, and her daughter was making it really hard for her to work,” Thompson said. “[I thought,] we can read to kids for 15 minutes, just to give the parents some peace of mind or some time to get things done.”

To connect readers with children in need of entertainment, Thompson is first contacted by parents, who request a reader at a specific time. Thompson then sends the information to the group of volunteers. The service has Instagram and Facebook accounts, but Thompson said that families primarily learn about FaceTime Storytime through word of mouth at the moment.

So far, the organization has helped eight or nine families and has 18 volunteers, most of whom are Archer students, but Thompson emphasized that FaceTime Storytime is still in its infancy. Recently, some of the readers have begun networking, reaching out to family friends and local elementary schools.

Though the volunteer service has helped relatively few families, Thompson said seeing its impact has been rewarding. One specific experience stood out to her — reading Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” to the daughter of one of her mother’s friends.

“It started kind of calm because she was super shy and didn’t know what to say,” Thompson said. “As soon as I started reading, she started talking…I think it was just the idea that she, as a seven-year-old, had a teenager listening to her, and that was like magic.”

Sophomore Ava Rothenberg, who learned about the organization through one of Thompson’s Instagram story posts, reads for FaceTime Storytime. She wanted to join Thompson’s initiative because of her experience taking care of her 5-year-old sister at home.

“I thought I was bored, but I have school every day, I have friends who I FaceTime with,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see these children, who are at a developmental social stage where they’re so reliant on [playdates], just sit at home and have really limited interactions with people besides their parents.”

Rothenberg said that the uncertainty and fear surrounding the pandemic also motivated her to be of service to others.

“We all feel really helpless, and that’s part of the reason it’s super scary,” she said. “This seemed like an accessible way I could help out.”

The efforts of Rothenberg and the other readers have not gone unnoticed. The response from parents so far has been overwhelmingly positive, Thompson said. 

“They are always super appreciative about the time that they get, even if it’s super limited, away from this child who may or may not be ‘hangry’ and having a meltdown because they don’t want to be inside anymore,” she said. “A lot of parents are happy that, even though they’re talking to someone through a screen, their child is getting something read to them rather than watching TV.”

Thompson emphasized the low commitment and flexibility for students who may want to get involved with FaceTime Storytime as a reader. Additionally, she encouraged community members to reach out to her if they would like to book the service for a child they know.

“We’re looking for anyone and everyone who is willing to read or have a younger sibling be read to. We’re looking to spread the word,” she said. “Everyone is welcome.”