Columbia and Read Ahead: 20 Years and Counting

Junior Benjamin
May 02, 2018

Since 1998, Columbia University has been partnering with Read Ahead (formerly Everybody Wins! NY), a nonprofit organization that matches volunteer mentors with elementary school students throughout New York City, for one-on-one lunchtime mentoring sessions of reading and conversation.

Columbia is the largest and an important partner organization, providing volunteers to the high-needs, underresourced public schools P.S. 36 and P.S. 125. The participation of the Columbia volunteers has enabled Read Ahead to serve more than 125 elementary school students in the Columbia area for the 2017–2018 academic year. These mentors have provided the students with whom they work a consistent, positive presence, which boosts the children’s confidence, love of reading, motivation to succeed, and more.

Coordinated through the Office of Government and Community Affairs and managed by Junior Benjamin, assistant director of finance and special projects (himself a former volunteer), the program conducts information/recruitment sessions at the beginning of every academic year, after which volunteers undergo intensive training and background checks before they are matched with mentees in the various schools. Currently, the program is experiencing one of the most successful years of its Columbia partnership, with 151 new and returning mentors, representing a diverse cross section of the Columbia community.

Of the total number of mentors onboarded by Read Ahead for the 2017–2018 academic year thus far, among the 40+ corporate and community partners in the New York City area, almost 11 percent are Columbia volunteers, serving 37 students at P.S. 125, and 97 at P.S. 36. The volunteer opportunity as a Read Ahead mentor offers Columbia volunteers a meaningful and satisfying way to make a difference in a child’s life, with some mentors describing it as “one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences” of their lives.

For more information about the program, or to find out about becoming a mentor, contact Junior Benjamin ([email protected]) at the Office of Government and Community Affairs, or contact Read Ahead at

This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of The Columbia Newsletter.