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School kids eagerly await retired plumber’s visits

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–If Mr. Faris doesn’t make his 1:30 p.m. weekly appointment on time, he has 30 important clients who are not very happy.
Harold Faris, a retired plumber and lay minister at Hilldale Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., eases his clients this week and looks over an important document. He begins reading. “Waldo was barking at Zirkzese,” he pauses and asks, “Have you ever heard of a cat named Zirkzese?” Faris’s clients shout “No!” in unison. Some giggle.
The all-important clients are second-graders at Clay Elementary School. For the last seven years Faris has been volunteering to read to elementary school children for 30 minutes every Monday. He reads to several classes at three different elementary schools, totaling about 375 kids every week.
“It is a great opportunity for witnessing,” Faris noted. “I don’t have to mention God; I can just read stories that talk about Christian values.”
One of Faris’ favorite books — and a favorite among the kids — is “Bedtime Anytime Stories” by Gilbert DeBeers. In each short story, the same set of animal characters fall into different situations in which a moral lesson is learned.
Faris likes to read several of those each week, stopping occasionally to show a funny picture or ask the kids who a character is — just to make sure they are paying attention.
“They love that book. Kids love animal characters, and the moral is always so good,” Faris said, noting he is “really just a kid still.” On this particular day, Faris started a new book which featured two boys and their adventures with a chemistry set, a dog named Waldo and a cat named Zirkzese.
Faris started his reading appointment when a local teacher he knew asked him to read to her second-grade class once a week. Through the grapevine, other teachers heard about Faris and wanted to get in on the opportunity. Faris then contacted other schools and offered to read for any teacher who requested it. He spends every Monday going to Pinson, Center Point and Clay elementary schools. He reads to 12 second-grade classes and three sixth-grade groups.
Faris regularly gets cards from the students thanking him for reading. On his 70th birthday this past March, Faris received a particularly memorable card: “Dear Mr. Faris, I really don’t like reading but the way you read makes me want to. It is nice of you … I hope you had a good 70 years so far of living.”
Faris often reads different material to the sixth-graders. Recently he read an autobiography of a man on death row who had since become a Christian and was repentant for his life of sex, drugs and murder. “Kids today think they can handle that stuff, but this story showed how those things handled that man,” Faris said. “The teachers have indicated to me that that story has perhaps helped some of their problem students.”
Faris doesn’t always read other people’s books. Often he writes his own poems and teaches the kids songs he used to sing.
“This is a great opportunity for senior adults,” Faris said. “So many of us have the time to do this and it means a lot to the kids. Many of them do not have a positive adult, especially male, role model in their lives.”
Lydia Stewart, second-grade teacher at Clay Elementary, noted how much her students look forward to Faris coming to their school.
“Oh, they love it and it is such a good moral lesson,” she said, adding the reading fulfills the state’s requirement for including 15 minutes of character education each day.
“If one child gets a lift out of it, then it is all worth it,” Faris said.

Anyone interested in volunteering to read or in learning how to start a similar project in his or her community, may contact Faris at (205) 853-7376.

    About the Author

  • Laurie A. Lattimore