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Tutoring Storm Survivors


A children’s literacy program founded 20 years ago in New Orleans survived the storm – thanks largely to volunteer tutors from the area.  Now, second graders are associating “k” with the kindness following Katrina.  Who else but Reed Galin has the story?


Eighty-year old Willa Cristina was ready for retirement…

Nat/Tutor works with child: “You did really well.” 

…then came Katrina.

Willa Cristina/ Volunteer Tutor, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church:  “I thought I had retired from everything, but they’re desperate for tutors this year.”

For the past six years, Willa has served as a tutor for a children’s literacy program called “start the adventure in reading” or STAIR

Willa Cristina/STAIR Volunteer, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church Member:  “There are many children who need it more now than they did before because they’re having problems at home, they’re having problems in school.”

STAIR is a non-profit program dependant on donations and volunteers.  It originated in New Orleans in 1985, but was nearly wiped out by Katrina.  Now, local United Methodist churches are among those helping to rebuild the reading program.

The Rev. Sheri Zehner/St. Paul’s United Methodist Church:  “It’s absolutely important for them to open up their imaginations, not only for them to see what is to come, but to help them deal with the things that they’ve dealt with over the past year.”

Nat/Student with tutor: “Our refrigerator broke. Yes, everybody’s refrigerator broke I think.”

Given the post-traumatic stress children are suffering, and the shortage of mental health workers in the region, tutors this year are offering coaching and compassion. 

Sara Woodard/Executive Director, STAIR:  “The tutors can really relate to what the children have been through since they’ve been through it themselves.”

Since the storm, the once predominately African-American program has seen a larger number of white and Hispanic students, and is now staffing bilingual tutors.  STAIR has signed up three hundred volunteers this year.

Sara Woodard/Executive Director, STAIR:  “The future of our community are our children, and we don’t want them to be lost or left out.”


Children are recommended for the program by their teachers.  Most show significant improvement.  For example, at the end of last school year, 78% of STAIR students scored at or above the second grade reading level.   

For more information on the STAIR program, visit or call 504-899-0820.

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