By Janelle Burrell

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In this week’s story of Brotherly Love, a novel reading program has connected senior citizens with young children, virtually.

“I did a sun and there’s a smiley face,” Diane Ajl said.

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“Making Friends With Books” is a program by the Penn Literacy Network connecting senior adults with young students, in grades two and four.

Diane Ajl is a retired lawyer turned volunteer reading teacher.

“We spend a good bit of time reading and talking about the book and do some drawing,” Ajl said.

The program was conceived by executive director Bonnie Botel-Sheppard. She knew kids and seniors were isolated during the pandemic.

“What’s important about this program is that we have volunteer senior adults making literacy connections and relationship connections with young children,” Botel-Sheppard said.

The program has made a big difference to fifth-grader Alejandra Rodriguez.

“When you read, you can improve your vocabulary,” Alejandra said.

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She is a student at Saint Martin of Tours School but had to stay home during the shutdowns.

“I feel like sometimes I just pay attention to my phone too much so to have time to read with somebody feels pretty good,” Alejandra said.

The idea is to connect children and seniors once a week for 30 to 45 minutes over five weeks. It seems like a short time, but Alejandra’s mother, Iris Sanchez, said it made a big difference.

“She’s not saying, but she got straight As and I think part of this program has impacted her grades immensely,” Sanchez said.

It made a big difference to the seniors as well.

“To have this experience with someone I’ve never met before is really wonderful,” Ajl said.

And now Alejandra is encouraging her family and everyone else to read.

“Sometimes you should just take five minutes out of your day to just pick a book, any kind of book, and just have a calm moment for themselves and take a mental break,” Alejandra said.

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The program funding pays for the books and materials, as well as salaries for coaches who facilitate the sessions.

Janelle Burrell