Santo Ferrarello was born in Sicily, Italy and moved to America in 1954 when he was seven. He describes himself as a “city kid from Philadelphia.” In 1972, Santo moved to Reading to work for Gilbert Associates, which is now Worley Parsons on Route 10. It was here that he met his wife, Ann. Today, he and his wife have two sons and find great pleasure in watching their two grandsons, Dominic, 7, and Leo, 4, throughout the week. He credits his grandsons for getting him used to the playful nature of children that he encounters at the Second Street Learning Center.
Santo remembers Opportunity House from its earliest days. He and his wife became “fans of Opportunity House’s work with the people in the city and became modest donors to the cause.” He met co-worker Lee Ruch while working at Cabot Supermetals. Ruch, who was on Opportunity House’s board at the time, invited Santo to visit Opportunity House. “The visit only reinforced my positive feelings about the work being performed there,” he recalls.
After retiring in December 2013, Santo knew that he wanted to volunteer his time to Opportunity House. He explains, “I really wanted to volunteer somewhere in the city. The city needs a lot of help. The poverty is just phenomenal here.” And the rest is history. Santo became a volunteer at the Second Street Learning Center on Nov. 14, 2014 – a date that he has proudly committed to memory.
Aside from missing one day due to sickness and a couple of well-deserved vacations in Florida and to the shore, Santo has faithfully volunteered to read to the children every Tuesday since he began last November. Although he does not get paid to read to the children, he finds doing this more rewarding than a job. “When you retire, it is easy to lose a sense of direction…I think it has helped give me another purpose. It helps give me an extra focus and an extra goal. The children are wonderful, beautiful, active, diverse, caring and a joy to be with.”
Santo reads three or four stories each week. He starts out reading to the Pre-K students and then moves on to the younger children. After volunteering, he heads straight to the Reading Public Library so he can return the books he read that day and pick out new ones for next week. “I’m a regular over there. I get advice on books,” he explains. Santo knows exactly which genre the kids enjoy most. He will spend roughly a half an hour in the library diligently choosing books. “They have to have a super hero story. They love superheroes. I try to pick books that give them female empowerment, too. I read a book just last week called ‘Princesses Can Be Pirates Too!’”
Despite his undeniable dedication to the children, Santo claims, “The heroes in this story are the teachers and aides.” He looks at his short time with the children as nothing compared to the hard work and dedication that they give to all of the students. Certainly, this is only modesty speaking, as Santo is quite dedicated to the children himself. His passion towards his volunteering shines through, as he says, “Children are just bright beacons, and I love to see the smile in the eyes of the children. I like to think that they see me as a friend.” To this, he sheds a tear. “I get a little emotional about it. It must be my Italian,” he concludes.