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Lydia Dessauer with a children's book she reads on video

Pandemic inspires 'Story Time with Pi Phis'

Virtually every day of the school year, a member or two of Pi Beta Phi, a fraternity for women on DePauw’s campus, trekked to Greencastle’s Ridpath Elementary School to read to pupils.

Then COVID-19 hit, and DePauw and Ridpath’s K-2 students alike were sent home to finish their academic years remotely.

“Philanthropy has been really important to me and then, when the pandemic happened, I was like, we need to keep doing reading with them,” said Lydia Dessauer ’22, director of service and philanthropy for the Indiana Epsilon chapter of the Pi Phis at DePauw, members of which have volunteered for the Champions are Readers program at Ridpath for 17 years.

She spoke with Anna Harmless ’09, head of the fraternity’s alumnae advisory council, who pretty much suggested, when in Rome …

“I can take credit for strongly encouraging and planning with our community relations/philanthropy team to make this idea happen, but have to say that the inspiration came from a local elementary school,” said Harmless, a school-based therapist who participated in Champions are Readers when she was a DePauw students. With so many other lessons, meetings and events going virtual, why not reading?

Julia Patras with children's book
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Caria Monroe with children's book
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Maddie Dixon with children's book
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“I loved the concept so much and felt this was an excellent way to encourage reading, especially for children whose parents do not read to them,” Harmless said. “Once everything hit with COVID-19, I knew that Pi Phi had to do something to continue encouraging literacy in Putnam County. Since our members wouldn’t be able to do their traditional reading program at nearby Ridpath Elementary, I knew that virtual was the way to go.”

Said Dessauer: “I was like, oh, a YouTube channel would be perfect.” And thus was born “Story Time with Pi Phi.”

The YouTube channel carries nine videos, and Pi Phi president Sarah Galliher ’21 said there are plans to add more.

“Our philanthropy is very important to Pi Beta Phi. Many of us overlook how fortunate we are to be able to read and attend such a great school like DePauw,” Galliher said. “The Greencastle community does not have a very high literacy rate for young children, so we hope to do the most that we can to help. Students are always very excited when they are able to read with our members. This program allows our members to directly influence the community that we all live in during the school year.”

(Photos: Top: Lydia Dessauer '22. Middle, l-r: Julia Patras '23; DeCaria Monroe '23; Maddie Dixon '22.)

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