EVANSDALE, Iowa (KWWL) -- Staff at Poyner Elementary say Mike Thompson is intergral to how they teach students first learning to read.
Prior to the pandemic, "Mr. Mike" visited the school several times a week for nearly 6 years to be a "reading buddy" where students would read to him.
“To me it's the center of education," Thompson said.
School principal Jen Willand says his visits stopped as schools shuttered last spring, but then Thompson called at the start of this semester.
“We were so thrilled he contacted us back in the fall, when the first round of stimulus checks actually went out," Willand said.
The "Reading Buddy" program was a major contributor to how students practiced their literacy skills.
“We want kids to read with their families at home. We want them to read with our teachers to each other, but having another person that they can share their reading and learning with is outstanding," Willand said.
Thompson's donation allowed for all first graders to receive 4 books of their own as part of an effort he calls "My First Library."
"I told many of the kids learning to read may become your very best friend. We can't get along without it," Thompson said.
Thompson says he was inspired to do something when he saw the state report concerning reading scores in December.
"If you can't read the material, sure you can hear it over a computer, but how are you going to write it? How you're going to be able to identify words?," Thompson said.
Part of a small church in Evansdale, St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Thompson is involved in several philanthropic efforts, including "Honor Walks" through the summer for veterans, first responders, and more.
"I encourage people to be involved, no matter who they are, what age they are," Thompson said.
Thompson suggests if you want to help local schools, to reach out and see what their specific needs may be.
Willand says volunteers like Mr. Mike offer more than just a helping hand with education.
“It's not just reading, but it's that relationship piece. And it's also a really good positive, male role model that he can provide, Willand said.