TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Syllable by syllable, word by word, volunteers are determined to change lives. They’re spending their summer offering life-changing reading lessons to a group of Buffalo school children.

The Episcopal Diocese of Western New York wants to help the K-3 graders get back on track. Bishop R. William Franklin believes the church must step up to help kids in failing schools.

“We can see lives changing right before our eyes. This is very important to the Episcopal church because we are often called the people of the book. We believe in books. We read books. And we believe that reading is a key to freedom and opportunity and hope for all people,” Bishop Franklin said.

The church is using grant money to pay for the Eaton Summer Reading Program.

Executive Director Sare Anuszkiewicz knows the urgency. “When children are K-3 before they enter 4th grade, most of the focus of their education is in teaching them how to read, but once they hit 4th grade, they need to know how to read in order to learn,” Anuszkiewicz suggested. “If they can’t read on level by 4th grade, they will not graduate high school. It’s tragic,” she said.

The diocese started small this summer and invited students from two Buffalo schools where parishes had existing working relationships. The program benefits from local and regional volunteers. Recently a group of teens from the Diocese of Ohio offered the kids one-on-one attention. “It’s such an important skill that all of these students should know and they don’t. That’s why I’m so glad that we’re doing this,” a high school senior named Richard told News 4.

“We see this as part of God’s mission of restoring all people and lifting all people up,” Bishop Franklin said.