6 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY February 8-14, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 Children dressed in colorful superhero and princess costumes run around and laughter fills the community room at the Marina branch of Monterey County Free Libraries. But the lively scene quickly settles into rapt attention once John Upshaw begins reading. Some kids gather even closer as Upshaw turns the book into a vocal performance, changing his tone for each character. Every month, local children enjoy a special storytime at the Marina library called Dads Read! Men—most of them fathers, although it’s not a requirement—read to dozens of kids. Sometimes the storytellers pick the books, perhaps an old favorite. But the librarians are happy to select from the most popular children’s book titles. On most occasions, the event takes place outside near the playground. Damp weather moves the reading indoors. The reason Friends of Marina Library call on men to volunteer their storytelling skills is simple: “There’s always a lot of women reading to kids, but not as many men,” notes Dana Cleary, a member of FoML, the organization that sponsors the event. She acknowledges that reading to a group of youngsters for the first time can be surprisingly intimidating. “Sometimes we’ll have 200 people here and it’s wild,” Cleary points out. So first-time readers get some time to prepare. Upshaw has participated in Dads Read! several times. And he came to the program with experience as an emcee and DJ for audiences at weddings and other events. Yet even he admits to butterflies the first time. “I was a little more nervous than usual because I’d never read a book to the whole room,” Upshaw explains. “So I just took some to get everything together and focus and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m here to DJ. I’m here to read to the kids. This is the best day of my life, and it’s gonna be a great time for them.’” The event has been around for several years, but it almost went away after the couple running the program moved from the area. FoML revived it about three years ago using funds they collected during Monterey County Gives! They also partner with local organizations and businesses to bring additional activities—including gymnastics, rock painting and music—to kids. On this particular morning, when the storytelling comes to an end, a party begins. Children of all ages—parents are part of the audience—take to the community room stage and start dancing to music Upshaw prepared for the day. There is popcorn and there are toys. Dads Read! is intended to be a family event. In addition to being read to, children socialize and play. Their parents meet up and share experiences. They can also grab groceries from the Food Bank for Monterey County, buy used books or exchange clothing from Buy Nothing Marina. “You’re able to connect with other parents while your kids are just having fun playing,” says Felicia Ibarrola, a Marina resident. She and her two sons, Caden and Jonah, are regulars at Dads Read!. Ibarrola says her sons are very social and look forward to joining other children at library events. But Dads Read! fills another purpose she feels is important. For Ibarrola, who is a single mom, events like this allow her sons to spend some time with a male figure. “They don’t really have that relationship, but it still gives them an idea of what it should be,” Ibarrola says. The men who read during story time come from different backgrounds. Often, they play up the part. Daniel Lopez, a high school language arts teacher, showed up as Spider-Man on one occasion. At the December reading, Gene Doherty came as Santa Claus. For Cleary, Dads Read! is a community gathering—and a successful one. “When we conceived of this library branch, our goal was not just to have a place where you checked out books,” she says. “It was a place where it could be a community center.” Dads Read! usually runs the second Saturday of the month. The next Dads Read! takes place on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 10am-noon. For more, call 682-8016 or email friendsofthemarinalibrary@gmail.com. Dad Time Every month, a man with a book enchants dozens of kids at the library in Marina. By Celia Jiménez Every month a different man reads to children during Dads Read! The readers come from different bacgrounds—musicians, engineers, plumbers and teachers. Here Herbert Cortez takes his turn reading outside of the Marina library. “Sometimes we’ll have 200 people and it’s wild.” TaLeS FrOM THe area CODe DANIEL DREIFUSS The Chamber Informs We are informative, serving on advocacy-focused committees and task forces to stay on top of key business, government and community issues and educating our members on topics impacting businesses in our region. If you're looking for a platform to initiate important conversations and grow your business, we invite you to join our business association on the Monterey Peninsula! Join Today! • montereychamber.com • info@montereychamber.com • 831.648.5350