Rotary Reading Buddy partnership turns into long-term friendship for Schwob, Snyder

Rotary Club member Kay Schwob (left) and Sarah Denton Snyder take a break at Café of Hope on Monday, May 1. The two have remained friends ever since they were first paired in the Rotary Reading Buddies program at Lincoln Elementary School back in 2000. They have kept in touch through letters, cards, get-togethers and Facebook.
Rotary Club member Kay Schwob (left) and Sarah Denton Snyder take a break at Café of Hope on Monday, May 1. The two have remained friends ever since they were first paired in the Rotary Reading Buddies program at Lincoln Elementary School back in 2000. They have kept in touch through letters, cards, get-togethers and Facebook. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published May 8, 2017.

When Kay Schwob signed on to help out her Huntington Rotary Club with its newly-launched Reading Buddies program at Lincoln Elementary School in 2000, she thought she was helping to give back to the community she loves.

“I just think it’s so important to be able to connect in a variety of ways with kids,” says Schwob, who is the director of the Enterprise Resource Center at Huntington University. “My sons were about Sarah’s age, and I thought, if I can help out at Andrews, where my kids were going, I could certainly help out at another school. It was the first year to do it and I thought that it could be fun.”

Little did she know in 2000 that her encounter with Sarah, a shy first-grader, would turn into a friendship that has lasted 17 years.
In Sally Morrison’s first-grade class, little Sarah Denton (now Snyder) was mortified when she was assigned to a male buddy to improve her reading skills.

“I just didn’t connect well, and I asked the teacher and told her I wanted a girl,” Snyder recalls. “I got Kay, so I was really excited about that.”

Schwob had initially been assigned a boy as her reading buddy, but suddenly her partner was switched.

“It changed pretty quick, as far as who we were assigned to,” she adds. “It was like, ‘No, you’re with Sarah.’ And we just had a blast.”

While they were paired together at Lincoln Elementary, Schwob and Snyder bonded over reading. They started out with mini “reading marker” books, graduating to more difficult books. One of Snyder’s favorites was the Junie B. Jones series.

But often, they would play games during their time together that would improve Snyder’s word recognition, or just sit and chat about whatever was going on in their lives at the time.

“I’ve had buddies throughout, ever since we started this (reading program), and none of them have had the connection that I’ve had with Sarah, and I don’t know why,” Schwob says.

Snyder says she found the friend and mentor she needed in Schwob.

“She was really nice,” Snyder recalls. “I was really shy, and she would talk to me and I would just kind of have my head down and I was super-shy. But she was really, really nice … She taught me how to read. I couldn’t spell, and I was struggling and lacked self-confidence and I didn’t like to read in front of the class, so it was good to have that one-on-one with her.”

Schwob recalls that even though her young buddy was a “very shy little girl,” she could tell that Snyder appreciated their weekly sessions.
“At first I had to be the instigator of asking questions, asking ‘What’s going on?’ and that sort of thing. About halfway or maybe three-quarters of the way through she started opening up,” she says. “Even as shy as she was, at the very beginning I always got a wonderful hug every time I came out. But the hugs got stronger as we progressed throughout the year.”

And Sarah got better, showing improvement in her reading skills as she progressed to chapter books with more interesting stories.

That inaugural year, the reading buddies group got together to have lunch at Applebee’s, had an outdoor cookout and swimming party and the kids put on a special play for the Rotarians. In turn, the adult buddies took them to a Rotary meeting to experience the club and meet other members.

Now 24, Snyder naturally moved on from first grade, progressing through elementary and middle school, and then on to Huntington North High School, where she graduated. After high school she got married, had a baby and is now working to support herself and Ava, 3. Snyder reads books to her daughter often, renewing the cycle that was invested in her.

“If I didn’t get that one-on-one, I probably wouldn’t be a good reader,” she says, adding that she looks up to Schwob. “The attachment is there, but it’s hard to describe.”

“It’s awesome when I get to see great things that you post, and it’s neat to see that you’re growing and doing and supporting your daughter in those kinds of things,” Schwob told Snyder. “I have just seen Sarah … grow, I’ve seen her mature, I’ve seen her grow in her faith. I’ve seen her take so much more responsibility, for growing up … and just all the steps that you’ve gone through.”

And that shyness thing? While she is still a somewhat reticent, soft-spoken young woman, Snyder has overcome much of her childhood bashfulness and even serves as a member of her church’s worship team. She also took classes at Barbizon Modeling School and has done some modeling and acting as well.

Despite the years, the ups and downs of life and the transformation made from a first-grader to high school graduate and mom, Snyder and Schwob never lost contact with each other. Schwob has worked with more than a dozen first-grade reading buddies since that first year with Sarah, but never kept in touch with any of them past their year spent together in the program, except for Snyder.

They started out by writing letters and sending Christmas cards. But when Facebook came on the scene they connected as friends, and have been faithfully keeping up with all the latest news ever since.

“We don’t see each other that often, but when we do it’s like, ‘Yeah!’ There’s something there, there’s a connection. We just remember the great times we had and the fun things that we’ve done and being able to be positive,” Schwob says. “I think the thing that we just need to be more conscious of is that life gets in the way, but we need to stay active and involved in each other’s lives.”