“It is an honor and a privilege to have this program on our campus, and I look forward to many more years of working with the Panetta Institute.”

Phillip Menchaca
La Mesa Elementary School,

Monterey County Reads – Volunteers Helping Area Children

Giving the Children of Monterey County the Tools They Need to Succeed

The Challenge We Face

Twenty-eight percent of adults in Monterey County lack basic literacy skills — between 80,000 and 90,000 adults. Nationally, forty-three percent of Americans with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty.

The connection is clear — and so is the challenge. Study after study has shown that a child’s ability to read is crucial to help him or her achieve a happy and productive life. Conversely, these studies show that the lack of literacy skills often means poverty, unemployment and even a greater chance of incarceration.

The challenge is to get help for children while they’re young — in the first, second and third grades. Studies demonstrate that students who are below average in reading fluency after the third grade experience significant educational challenges thereafter.

That’s why the Monterey County Reads program dedicates itself to providing the children of Monterey County with the tools they need to achieve happy and productive lives, using literacy as a means to avoid poverty and achieve educational success.

A Tested Commitment to Monterey County’s Children

The History of Monterey County Reads

The Monterey County Reads consortium was launched in the spring of 1997 by The Panetta Institute for Public Policy, college and university presidents, the Monterey County Office of Education superintendent, school superintendents and school administrators. By the fall of 1997, college students from the participating universities were working in elementary schools in the Alisal Union School District, the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and Greenfield Elementary School District – providing the one-to-one reading help that benefits struggling readers.

volunteer-reader-largeBefore Monterey County Reads there was no one-to-one, countywide interventional community volunteer reading assistance program for children enrolled in early elementary grades.

Today, the consortium includes ten Monterey County school districts, colleges and a coalition of businesses, community and faith-based organizations, hospitals, military installations, law enforcement groups and government offices. The vision of the MCR consortium is to have children in the county read at or beyond grade-level by the end of third grade. As little as six hours per semester can bring significant improvement in a student’s reading abilities.

Administered by the Panetta Institute, Monterey County Reads has placed more than 3,700 volunteers who have served over 134,500 hours working with approximately 19,200 students. The effort continues with growing numbers of volunteers committed to fighting illiteracy. The cumulative numbers of storybooks distributed in Monterey County Reads’ history demonstrates the breadth of this program. In the program’s twenty-two year history, approximately 19,200 books have been distributed to the children participating in the program. During the 2018-2019 school year, nearly 650 books were distributed to children for recognition of their efforts in reading improvement. In addition, 165 volunteers served in nine school districts.

“It was so nice to see the students’ progress and pride in their improved skills.”

— Volunteer Martha Delaney

This program especially addresses the needs of the lower socio-economic level of Monterey County’s population with a focus on Latino, Spanish-speaking and other ethnic minorities.

Overall, the student population in Monterey County public schools are 76.8% Hispanic, 1.9% Filipino, 1.8% Asian, 1.6% African American, 0.5% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 0.2% American Indian or Alaska Native. Caucasian students make up 14.5% of Monterey County’s public school student enrollment. (Monterey County Office of Education Report, 2014.)

As for Monterey County’s overall population, 29.6% of Monterey County adults have no high school diploma or its equivalency. A language other than English is spoken in 52.5% of the homes; 16.1% of Monterey County’s population live below the poverty level. (United States Census Report, 2013.)

Early elementary grade Monterey County Reads students and parents benefit from this reading program, with parents invited to participate as trained volunteers, since they are inspired by the dedication of the Panetta Institute to the well being of their children.

Ensuring Success

Data Collection and Analysis a Key Component


“Monterey County Reads is honestly an amazing program that I absolutely loved being a part of. The staff, I must say, are extraordinary as well. Extremely organized, professional and, most important, loving.”

–Volunteer David Corvera

During the twenty-two year history of Monterey County Reads, the Panetta Institute has analyzed data measuring children’s progress in reading. The Institute works to assure high quality program outcomes by conducting orientations at the beginning of the year with school site teams at each participating school, and performing pre and post assessments for every participating student.

Assessment data is then analyzed by experts at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. Based on those measurements, the Panetta Institute ensures that the Monterey County Reads program continues to fulfill its goal of using literacy to improve the lives of young people.

How You Can Help

Volunteering with Monterey County Reads

placeholder02The Monterey County Reads program recruits, trains and places community volunteers in elementary schools throughout Monterey County. Volunteers receive training from literacy specialists, followed by on-site orientations, before beginning regular one-to-one reading sessions with selected children in first through third grades. One volunteer reacted to his experience this way: “It’s exciting to watch a child have a new world open up to him just by simply reading a story. It’s the most rewarding project I’ve ever been involved in.”

During the past school year, the Institute continued to broaden its focus on community volunteers. Reaching out to more community organizations has had a positive ripple effect. Community members typically belong to more than one organization, and when Panetta Institute staff recruits from one group, interested members often spread the word to other organizations. The Panetta Institute has also extended its reach in the Salinas area of Monterey County where there is a great literacy need.

Participating school districts in the 2019-2020 school year:

  • Alisal Union School District
  • Carmel Unified School District
  • Greenfield Union School District
  • Monterey Peninsula Unified School District
  • North Monterey County Unified School District
  • Salinas City Elementary School District
  • Santa Rita Union School District
  • Soledad Unified School District
  • Spreckels Union School District

Steps to Becoming a Volunteer

  • Application and Sponsorship
    All volunteers must submit an application, along with a valid government-issued photo identification, and must be sponsored by a participating sponsor. Volunteers must be able to commit to serving at least one hour per week on a regularly scheduled date and time for the duration of at least one semester. For more information on how to receive an application, call the Panetta Institute at 831-582-4200.
  • Training
    Volunteers who have completed an application attend a two-hour training with a literacy specialist on techniques for reading with children.
  • Placement
    Panetta Institute staff identifies a school site that can receive the volunteer at mutually convenient dates and times, and coordinates the volunteer’s work schedule.
  • Reading Sessions
    Reading sessions generally last from 15-20 minutes and involve one-to-one reading between the volunteer and the child. Volunteers read in the line of sight of assigned school personnel to ensure the security of the child.

Celebrating Service

Book and Certificate Distributions


In 2003, Oprah Winfrey visited the Central Coast on behalf of her popular book club. While here she was inspired by the work of Monterey County Reads and awarded the program a generous $50,000 five-year grant from her Angel Network Foundation. These funds were used to purchase new books.

At the conclusion of each year, participating children receive a new book at a ceremony attended by Monterey County Reads staff, volunteers and school personnel.

Annual Volunteer School and Recognition Ceremony

Secretary Panetta addresses the Volunteer and School Recognition Ceremony.

On September 20, 2019, the Institute held a festive Monterey County Reads appreciation ceremony at the CSU Monterey Bay University Center Ballroom to kick off its twenty-third year, celebrate its volunteers for their past service and thank participating schools for their support

Secretary Panetta served as keynote speaker for this special event. Simón Salinas, former Monterey County Supervisor, served as master of ceremonies. Additional comments were presented by Deneen Guss, Monterey County Superintendent of Schools; Sonia Arámburo, principal, Oak Avenue Elementary School; Narendra Desai, volunteer, El Gabilan Elementary School; Ramona Guerrero, teacher, Elkhorn Elementary School; Kelly Melendez, teacher Echo Valley Elementary School; Henry McKelvie, volunteer, Palma High School; Sebastian Diego-Rosiles, volunteer, Seaside High School, and Paul Tanks, USN (ret.), senior NJROTC instructor, Monterey High School.

Volunteers were acknowledged and applauded for their work, and were presented with a certificate of recognition along with a special pin.

Elementary schools that worked in support of Monterey County Reads during during the 2018-2019 school year received a certificate honoring their participation.

A special longevity honor, The Golden Threads Award, was given to volunteers who have served five years or more with Monterey County Reads. Five volunteers were honored for five years of service and two more for ten years.

Mrs. Panetta presents a Golden Thread Award in 2018 to volunteer Peggy Casey

Mrs. Panetta explained, “These volunteers are providing an invaluable service in our schools. They provide our children with the extra assistance they need to become life-long readers. It is our honor to recognize their important work and to celebrate the gift of literacy.”

The Volunteer and School Recognition Ceremony was sponsored by The Panetta Institute for Public Policy and the Monterey County Office of Education.

Organizational Support from the Panetta Institute

Panetta Institute staff coordinates the Monterey County Reads program by supervising the training of volunteers and by determining placement and scheduling as well as maintenance of records. A staff member attends each volunteer’s initial school site orientation and the first day of volunteering. Then, staff serves as contact between the school and the volunteer to make sure that Monterey County Reads guidelines are followed. Also, all recognition ceremonies for students and volunteers are arranged by the Panetta Institute.

Our Supporters

Monterey County Reads enjoys a high level of community support. The program receives generous support from individuals and a wide variety of businesses, community groups and institutions, who serve as sponsors for volunteers. Among them:

    • 1st Capital Bank
    • All Saints’ Day School
    • All Saints’ Episcopal Church
    • American Association of University Women, Monterey Peninsula Branch
    • American Red Cross, Monterey Bay Chapter
    • Donna Bessant
    • Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County
    • Mary Branson
    • California Highway Patrol
    • The California State University
    • California State University, Monterey Bay
    • Carl Cherry Center for the Arts
    • Carmel Foundation
    • Carmel Heritage Society
    • Carmel Presbyterian Church
    • Carmel Valley Steelhead Association
    • Carmel Valley Manor Residents’ Association
    • Carmel Valley Women’s Club
    • Kevin Ann Cartwright and Steve Elmer
    • Casa di Campagna
    • CASA of Monterey County
    • Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court 686
    • Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court 1532
    • Central Avenue Pharmacy
    • Central Bay High School
    • Central Coast College
    • Chartwell School
    • Church of the Wayfarer
    • City of Carmel-by-the-Sea
    • City of Del Rey Oaks
    • City of Salinas
    • Committee for Economic Development
    • Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula
    • Community Foundation for Monterey County
    • Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula
    • Congregation Beth Israel
    • County of Monterey
    • Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center
    • Del Mesa Carmel Community Association, Inc.
    • Del Monte Forest Property Owners
    • Democratic Club of the Monterey Peninsula
    • Department of Defense
    • First Baptist Church of Salinas
    • First Presbyterian Church of Salinas
    • First United Methodist Church of Pacific Grove
    • Food Bank for Monterey County
    • Forest Hill Ace Hardware
    • Fort Hunter Liggett
    • Greater Victory Temple Church in God in Christ
    • Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.
    • Hartnell College
    • Hartnell College, King City Education Center
    • Jim Tunney Youth Foundation
    • KRXA Radio
    • KSBW-TV
    • Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW, Post 8679
    • Jeanne and William Landreth
    • The Laurale and J. Irvine Fund
    • League of Women Voters of Monterey County
    • Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
    • Madonna del Sasso Pro Cathedral
    • Marina Police Department
    • McHenry Library, UC Santa Cruz
    • Mary Alicia McRae
    • Meals-on-Wheels of the Monterey Peninsula
    • Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
    • Monterey Bay Aquarium
    • Monterey Bay Links
    • Monterey County Free Libraries, Carmel Valley Branch
    • Monterey County Health Department
    • Monterey County Office of Education
    • Monterey High School
    • Monterey Peninsula College
    • Monterey Peninsula Foundation
    • National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration
    • Natividad Medical Center
    • Naval Postgraduate School
    • Naval Postgraduate School Toastmasters Club
    • New Life Church of the Nazarene
    • North Monterey County LULAC Council, #2709
    • Northminster Presbyterian Church
    • Notre Dame High School
    • The Octopus Club of Monterey County
    • Our Lady of Bethlehem 240
    • Pacific Coast Church
    • Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
    • Pajaro Valley Unified School District
    • Palma High School
    • Victoria Palminteri
    • Panetta Institute for Public Policy
    • The Park Lane
    • Pass the Word Ministry
    • Pebble Beach Company
    • Pebble Beach Company Foundation
    • Alan Perlmutter
    • Professional Women’s Network of the Monterey Peninsula
    • Quail Lodge & Golf Club
    • Rabobank
    • The Rotary Club of Monterey
    • The Rotary Club of Salinas Alisal
    • Saint James’ Episcopal Church
    • The Salinas Californian
    • Salinas Police Department
    • Salinas Public Libraries
    • Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce
    • Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System
    • Salinas Woman’s Club
    • The Salvation Army, Salinas Corps Community Center
    • San Carlos Cathedral Parish
    • San Jose State University
    • Santa Catalina School
    • Seaside High School
    • Security Financial Advisors, Inc.
    • Mary Shaw
    • Shoreline Community Church
    • SPCA of Monterey County
    • St. Angela Merici
    • St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
    • St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
    • Stevenson School
    • Tanimura & Antle
    • Temple Beth El
    • TGO Photography
    • UNA/USA Monterey Bay Chapter
    • Unitarian Universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula
    • United Methodist Church of Pacific Grove
    • United Methodist Women
    • Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice
    • Patricia and Walter Wagenhais
    • The Wecker Group
    • Linda and Randy Wight
    • Yoga Center of Carmel
    • York School
    • Young Ladies Institute Ignatius #85
    • YWCA of Monterey County
    • Elementary Schools and School Districts throughout Monterey County

Please Help Us Reach More Children

To reach more children, we need more Monterey County Reads partners – businesses and other organizations – to join us by offering volunteers. You can also help by contributing money to this important effort.

We welcome your interest and questions. Please contact us.

Click here for the Monterey County Reads brochure.