Smart Sprouts: Starting out Smart

By: Julie Navickas, Director of Marketing & Public Relations 

ImageIt’s the “ah-ha” moments that keeps Smart Sprouts mentor, Abbey Turner coming back to YWCA McLean County each week. Abbey and mentee, Dakota, have formed a fun, yet educational relationship. “I love seeing the ‘ah-ha’ moment on Dakota’s face when she recognizes a sight word we’ve been working on together. Her smile is infectious,” says Abbey.

Abbey is a senior at Illinois State University majoring in Special Education with an emphasis on becoming a Reading Specialist. “I was looking for something to fill my time productively this summer and came across Smart Sprouts on the United Way of McLean County website,” says Abbey. Smart Sprouts is an after-school mentoring program designed to help elementary-aged children develop life skills and improve academic performance. “After just one meeting with my mentee, Dakota, I was hooked! Smart Sprouts was exactly what I was looking for.”

Abbey and Dakota, a five year old student, meet three times a week to work on basic sight words, or Dolch words. “Dolch words provide an excellent base for reading at an early age. They are often called sight words because some of them cannot be sounded out, and need to be learned by sight,” explains Abbey. Dakota is in danger of not moving on to the first grade this fall because of her reading level; working with Abbey has increased her ability to recognize her sight words through fun and inventive activities including word bingo games, flashcards and arts and crafts. “Dakota is a hands-on student. She’s exactly the kind of child I love to work with and is my reason for wanting to become a teacher. She allows me to be creative with the content we’re working on. We have a special connection.”

ImageIn addition to working with Dakota, Abbey also spends her time with an 8 year old Stevenson Elementary student, Malachi. Malachi is a student with autism who is participating in YWCA’s annual summer camp. “At this age, they’re still so excited to learn. It brightens my day knowing that I have in some way impacted a child’s future,” says Abbey.

“Even though the time I’m spending with Dakota and Malachi is short, I know our relationship has enabled them both to grow and learn as individuals. They’re both special kids.” This fall, Abbey will begin the student teaching process in Decatur and move to Chicago in the spring. Abbey will graduate in May 2014. She hopes to then work with students who are learning English as a second language and really has a passion for working with minority groups. “I was doubly excited to learn that Smart Sprouts was a YWCA program. I simply love YWCA’s mission and could not be more passionate about living that mission through educating young children!”

The Smart Sprouts program aims to increase students’ reading capacity and academic performance while developing safe relationships with adult volunteers. YWCA has mentoring opportunities in 17 locations in McLean County and is administered in all locations throughout the school year. Smart Sprouts is also offered to summer campers at YWCA during summer months. To learn more about Smart Sprouts or to become a volunteer mentor, visit YWCA on the web at or contact Colleen Steinberg at (309) 662-0461 x267 or


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