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Ledyard — Before United Way volunteer Dawn Walsh read the book "Otis" to Tara Armstrong's kindergarten class at Gales Ferry School, the teacher ran a quick "self-check" of her students.
Armstrong asked the students Wednesday if they knew the proper way to sit on the floor. The students nodded.
She asked if they knew what to do with their ears and what their eyes should focus on. Again, some students nodded while others answered, "Yes." Armstrong's students quickly settled in, and she introduced Walsh.
"We are so lucky today that we have people in our community that want to read to us," Armstrong said.
Walsh was one of more than 50 volunteers who participated in the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut's Day of Caring projects, which the organization used to launch its annual fundraising campaign.
Last year, the United Way campaign raised $5,720,590. This year's campaign runs through December. The agency did not set a fundraising goal.
All volunteers read the book "Otis" by Loren Long and left behind a free copy along with crayons. They traveled to schools in Norwich, New London, Ledyard and Groton and read to more than 1,200 students.
Otis, a tractor, saves its best friend, a calf, when it gets stuck in the mud, and everyone on the farm throws them a parade to celebrate the heroism and friendship.
"Otis" is also part of this year's "Read for the Record," a national reading celebration that highlights the need for high-quality education in America and mobilizes children and adults to set a record for the largest shared reading experience.
Walsh also read the book to Barbara Heaney's and Gina Peluso's kindergarten classes.
She asked the students in Heaney's class if they knew what kind of animals live on a farm. One boy answered, "cows," prompting spontaneous mooing from the children.
After Walsh finished reading the book to the class, one little girl said, "I had a great time seeing that story."
Walsh, who works at Mohegan Sun casino as a support services manager for tables, said it was the first time she volunteered for United Way.
"It was a nice thing to do," she said. "I found it so rewarding, and it's nice to help someone."
Nancy Bulkeley, a community affairs representative at Dominion and also past United Way board chairman, read to four first-grade classes at Gales Ferry School.
Bulkeley said she continued to support United Way because the agency helps clients who are most in need.
"The people we served in the community need our help and we have to give back ... pay it forward," she said.
United Way of Southeastern Connecticut is a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of people who live and work in New London County and strengthen the community through local health and human service programs. The organization supports 71 programs and initiatives throughout the region.
Through Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, the agency last year served close to 2 million meals.
Donations also help support its latest initiative, the mobile food pantry, which launched in May. The pantry has been serving more than 300 households every month at three distribution sites in Groton, Jewett City and Norwich and will now also visit New London, Baltic and an additional site in Groton.
For more information on the United Way's programs or to make a donation go to www.uwsect.org.