At Vaughn Elementary, 3-year-old Isabella Norris is all smiles when it is her turn to read with “Mr. Denny.” Photo: Kim George

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP, commonly pronounced “E-Cap”) is a Washington-state funded program serving children 3 to 5 years old.

A Gig Harbor Kiwanis reading program is designed to enrich the early reading experience of those preschoolers.

Denny Wardell, now in his third year as an ECEAP volunteer, is one of five Gig Harbor Kiwanis members participating in the program. He is the only one who works at all three ECEAP sites—Evergreen, Vaughn and Artondale elementary schools.

“What makes Mr. Denny special is that he makes connections immediately with the children,” said Vaughn teacher Kim George. “They run up to hug him when he comes in the door.”

Jennifer Carter, an ECEAP aide at Evergreen, echoed that sentiment. “When Mr. Denny is here, the children know that they are all that is important to him,” she said.

In addition to recruiting volunteer readers to provide ECEAP preschoolers with weekly one-on-one time with an adult, the Kiwanis also provide $200 per classroom for books. The teachers select books and children get to take home the copy they shared with the volunteer readers.

“The big reward is that every child gets to take the book home,” Wardell said.