Aaron, 3, reaches for his favorite book, opens it and runs his tiny fingers across a silky square of fabric.
He shifts to lace, terrycloth and velvet as his reading mentor, Jordan Richardson, recites the names.
“Which one is corduroy?” Jordan asks Aaron. “No, not that one,” Jordan says gently. “Yes, that one. High five!”
On Saturdays at 10 a.m., Aaron runs into a large and sunny room at Hope Community Inc. in south Minneapolis, where Jordan waits for him at a table covered in books. For two hours, they read together, sometimes the same book over and over.
Patient Jordan doesn’t mind. Reading is his passion. And Jordan understands kids who think reading is hard.
He never told Aaron that he is blind, but after their first meeting, Aaron, who has his sight, went to the bookshelf and picked out “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” the Braille version. Today, they spend most of their two hours together with “Touch the Sun: A NASA Braille Book,” by Noreen Grice.
“He loves that,” Jordan says. “There are not a lot of kids who get a chance to feel the textures of the sun. Hot!” Jordan says.
“Hot, hot, hot!” Aaron repeats.
Jordan, 22, is a political science major at the University of Minnesota and president of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. Through a social justice and community service course, Jordan learned about Hope Community’s one-on-one reading program. The opportunity tugged at his heart. Jordan remembers benefiting in kindergarten from “a really good Braille instructor” who created a box with holes to insert his hands to encourage his reading by touch.
“Reading and writing are the most important aspects of society,” Jordan says. He trained with the Minnesota Literacy Council and is one of 15 college volunteers this semester.
Aaron comes on Saturdays with his parents and his two older siblings, who also have reading buddies. Aaron was a wee bit young for the program, “but he got tired of sitting on the sidelines,” said the Hope program manager with a laugh. “Braille,” he adds, “will give Aaron a leg up on literacy.”
Jordan graduates in May and hopes to attend law school. He’ll miss Aaron, but he doesn’t worry about him. “I think he’s going to be one of those kids who is passionate about reading,” Jordan says. Maybe someday Aaron, too, will look back with gratitude at the one who first made that so.
“Every Saturday, he shouts ‘Jordan, Jordan!’ ” says Aaron’s father, Rinaldo, who often sits with his son, bursting with pride. “He wants to come.”