- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2001

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — Volunteers at the Western Maryland Reading Center spend little time wondering whether they should use phonics or whole language to teach their young clients to read.
The center has its own philosophy: As long as children love books, they'll learn to read regardless of which technique is used.
"We try to keep it fun," said Mary Anne Roach, 51, who runs the center with her mother, Flora Wilson.
"They do the work, but it's not like it's a school," Mrs. Roach said. "They're not in a classroom. They don't have to do it. But if you make it a fun place, they don't even know they're learning."
That straightforward method worked for Mrs. Roach's son, Christopher, who began visiting the center when he was 6. Christopher went from a struggling first-grader to a middle school honors student.
"He loved the center," Mrs. Wilson, 81, said. "He once told me, 'Someday, I'm going to run the reading center.'"
The center, founded in 1986 by a Frostburg State University professor, did so much for Christopher that his mother and grandmother were determined to keep it going when its federal grant ran out in the early 1990s.
And when Christopher died of a heart ailment two years ago at age 12, the women decided the reading center would serve as a memorial to him. A plaque bearing his photo hangs on the reading center's wall, dedicating the center in his memory.
The center moved across town this year to the Kingsley-Grace Mission Center, a converted church in southern Cumberland. The location is closer to the center's pupils, many of whom live in row houses and public housing projects in the working-class neighborhood.
About a dozen children between ages 5 and 14 visit the center two afternoons a week during the school year. Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Roach expect a larger crowd after people find out about their new location.
The children sometimes play word-recognition games and work with flashcards, but most just curl up next to a volunteer and read.

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