Spotlight On a Star Volunteer

By Michelle S. RSS Tue, December 3, 2013

Every year, the Free Library welcomes thousands of great volunteers who lend us their expertise and help our librarians and staff best serve all those who come through our door. One volunteer, Greg Payton, along with his “Technology Wish” team from PNC has gone above and beyond for the Library. Greg and the “Technology Wish” volunteers organized and led several workshops that helped parents, day care providers, and teachers learn how to integrate low- and no-cost technology into early literacy development. We caught up with Greg to ask him more about his volunteer efforts and why he’s passionate about helping others embrace technology literacy.

Why did you decide to volunteer your time with the Free Library?
PNC is a strong supporter of diversity and inclusion, which is also important to me personally. When the company launched Diversity and Inclusion Councils across its business segments several years ago, I took the opportunity to join the Technology Council. We began to actively look for opportunities to embrace diversity, foster inclusion, and increase community awareness through the delivery of technology related content. From there, the "Technology Wish" team was born and my work began with the Free Library.

Tell us more about your work with the Library.
We began by partnering with PNC's Grow Up Great program, a $350 million, multi-year initiative that began in 2004 to help prepare children—particularly underserved children—from birth to age five for success in school and life. This partnership linked the "Technology Wish" team to the Books Aloud! Program of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Our goal was to promote technology literacy and industry best practices, along with providing technology related content and education to parents of underserved preschool children, day care providers, and preschool teachers. We started planning with the Free Library in July 2012 and by October, were ready to conduct our first workshops.

"Technology Wish" volunteers led four customized workshops that presented low or no cost technology-based solutions using Facebook, YouTube (Teachers Channel), Microsoft Office, and Google Docs. The Facebook workshop promoted parent/teacher engagement; the YouTube workshop highlighted accessibility of educational tools; Microsoft Office depicted easy ways to create flyers that will capture interest; and Google Docs was promoted as a collaborative tool to be used for tracking student progress and parent engagement.  
Approximately 80 people attended the four sessions. All attendees, including library support personnel, responded positively. They told us they felt less fearful of technology and better equipped to implement technology applications while addressing any potential security concerns. They also said they would be willing to incorporate a variety of solutions in their curriculum and their daily life.  
To further compliment the "Technology Wish" team's 300+ volunteer hours, the Free Library of Philadelphia will be eligible for a $9,000 Grow Up Great "Grant for Great Hours" from the PNC Grow Up Great Foundation! Most importantly, it was a rewarding experience for both the teachers and the PNC volunteers. As a result of the success of "Technology Wish" in Philadelphia, the program has been expanded to other PNC markets in Cleveland, OH and Pittsburgh, PA.

Since its launch last year, the "Technology Wish" team has been recognized with two important awards:

  • PRISM International: Diversity Council Honors Award - The Association of Diversity Councils (a subsidiary of PRISM International) awards the Diversity Council Honors Award to 25 employee resource groups and diversity councils each year from companies across the nation. The award winners are determined based on their accomplishments in four areas: Demonstrated Council Results, Management Commitment, Measurement and Accountability, and Communication and Education.
  • 2013 PNC Diversity and Inclusion Council Champion Award for Community Service - This internal PNC award is part of a comprehensive recognition program that recognizes those outstanding behaviors and achievements that help advance diversity and inclusion initiatives across the company.

How can technology like e-readers be used to help lay foundational literacy skills for preschool children and other early learners?
Many public libraries have embraced the use of e-books and e-readers in their efforts to promote reading, keep up with client demands and address the specific needs of young readers. Researchers have explored how e-books benefit children’s reading engagement and how they may actually help readers better understand the texts they are reading. The rich multimedia features in many newer e-books (such as audio narration, sound effects, animations, links to dictionaries, etc.) support the reading of the text and help readers visualize meaning and comprehend more easily. Since digital technologies are so appealing to today’s children, research seems to support the value of e-readers as a factor in motivating young readers to read more, with some evidence they may be particularly valuable in motivating reluctant readers.

PNC volunteers are currently working with the Free Library of Philadelphia in support of its Every Child Ready to Read Program to develop specific content geared toward preschool children for mobile tablet and e-reader devices. Our volunteers will train key members of the Free Library, who in turn can train additional staff. In Cleveland, we will provide iPads to the Centers for Family and Children along with training to staff on how to use this tool. And in Pittsburgh, we are working with the public schools to develop content for mobile tablet and e-Reader devices.

Why is it so important to prepare young children for reading before they reach elementary school?
Research has shown that the first five years of life are critical to long-term achievement. As a company, PNC believes that an investment in our children now makes good economic sense and plants the seeds for the dynamic workforce of tomorrow. Extensive research indicates that the return on investment in high-quality early education and school readiness initiatives are significant and long lasting—impacting our children, our society, and the health of our economy for generations to come. Furthermore, research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs are far more likely to experience greater educational achievements, strive toward higher vocational aspirations and contribute to society later in life. Through Grow Up Great and "Technology Wish" team, PNC is helping families, educators, and community partners provide innovative opportunities that enhance learning and development in a child's early years.

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The Digital Literacy Vine, a blog created by Free Library of Philadelphia Librarian, Debra E Johnson, focuses on using digital technology in early literacy programming. You can see her blog here: and her youtube channel here: Ms. Johnson offers a balanced mix of theory and practical examples; her blog and youtube channel are still new, subscribing to both will ensure you being a part of the developing conversation.
Jeff - Northwest Philadelphia
Tuesday, December 31, 2013