Since its founding in 1999, BookMates, an interfaith initiative of the JCRC of Southern NJ, has helped change the lives of thousands of children in Southern New Jersey.  With a dedicated group of over 200 carefully-trained volunteers, BookMates provides weekly, one-on-one read-aloud sessions to more than 600 at-risk students in nearly 40 schools. 

For these youngsters, the weekly presence of a caring, encouraging adult offers not just joy in the moment but the promise of empowerment in the future.

Most of these children have few, if any, books in their homes and many have never experienced the joy of having adults read to them.  Without books and read-aloud time at home, these kids often lack the foundation needed to learn to read. Even before they start school, their chance for success has been compromised. It is BookMates’ mission to tackle this problem head-on.

For 25 years, BookMates has seen children jump up and down with excitement when their special friends arrive for the read-aloud sessions. The sustained, personal attention from the volunteers boosts kids’ self-esteem as they sense themselves being liked and respected. And by making reading fun and joyful, rather than scary, the read-aloud time expands children’s vocabulary, improves their comprehension, and increases their motivation to learn to read. Struggling students begin to develop a can-do attitude that opens the door to success in school and beyond.

Almost since its inception, BookMates has drawn on resources in the wider community to develop innovative programs that extend the work of the core group of volunteers.  

Programs & Resources


Become A BookMate

BookMates provide a nurturing, one-to-one literacy experience for at-risk children, encouraging them to love reading and providing them with a foundation to succeed in life.

BookMate Resources

Find additional information about the BookMates program, suggested reading lists, fun handouts for children, links to school district calendars, and more. 

Pacer Program

To help ease the sometimes-frayed relationship between law enforcement and community, we recruit police officers to read one-on-one to young children weekly. 

Kindness Program

To foster a school culture characterized by zero tolerance for bullying, we developed a reading and activity-based program that encourages kindness and compassion using The King School Series books. 

School Partnerships

To help students experience the value of inter-community cooperation, we train suburban middle school students to write/illustrate children’s books and to read those books to K-2 students in urban schools. 

Buddy Program

To boost the confidence of second graders who are themselves struggling readers, we train them to read easily accessible books to kindergartners. The second graders take great pride in being chosen for a position of such responsibility. Perceiving themselves as “mini teachers,” they begin to feel more competent and capable – and, no surprise, their own reading skills start to improve. 

Reading to Seniors

To strengthen the connection between generations, we escort second graders from an urban community to a senior housing facility in a suburban neighborhood.  

Book Giveaways

To support even more fully the schools we serve, we donate thousands of books to students and school libraries each year.  

All these initiatives are designed to create an environment that encourages at-risk children to flourish, learn, and experience the joy of reading. These objectives have guided our work for 25 years and will continue to drive our efforts in the years ahead. 

Thank you to our JCRC, Raab/Goodwin, and BookMates supporters!

For more information please contact Rhonda Shevrin, BookMates Director
(856) 751-9500 ext 1143 or