Dallas student spreads love of reading through community service project

Kai Gomeau has his sights set on a lofty goal – he wants to attend Harvard Law School.

The 15-year-old Dallas High School student knows it takes more than just good grades to reach such heights, so he set out to build his resume.

“After speaking with my guidance counselor in March about the importance of accumulating community service hours for my high school transcript, especially if I wanted to get into Harvard, I realized I had to start building my portfolio right away,” Gomeau said. “I immediately had my parents take me to the local animal shelter, Blue Chip, to sign up to volunteer.”

But then COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down much of the state and preventing Gomeau from volunteering.

However, the teen was not to be deterred and decided to come up with another way to serve his community. Relying on his own love for reading, Gomeau founded the “Read with a Teen” community service project.

It provides free, 15-minute virtual reading sessions to emerging and elementary-aged children, who would enjoy reading with an older peer. Gomeau has also added storytime to the program for prereaders.

“I got to brainstorming and remembered Mrs. Alexakos, my kindergarten teacher, and how much fun it was when she had older students come to our classroom and read with us,” Gomeau said in an email. “This sparked my idea of ‘Read with a Teen.’

“I wanted to offer children a fun way to help build their confidence in their reading skills and offer parents a 15-minute break without having to be there in person.”

After only a few weeks, the program is going strong. By the end of the fifth week of the program, Gomeau said, he will have completed 88 reading sessions with 29 children from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Alabama, Nevada, Oklahoma, Illinois and South Carolina.

In the next week, he will be adding children from Arizona, Colorad, Texas and Washington, D.C., to the list of those to whom he has read.

Gomeau said the program benefited from using his “mom’s military brat” network to reach children across the country.

“On friend in one state lead to another friend in another state and so on,” he said.

And next Sunday, the program will hit another milestone when it goes international with Gomeau reading to a child in Germany.

Originally hoping to instill a love for reading in young children while accumulating 40 hours of community service, the young high school student now has another goal.

“After only a couple of weeks offering the program through Facebook, I realized that I had readers from five different states and thought it would be really cool if I could reach children in all 50 states,” he said. “That’s how I got my third goal. As of this week, I’ve already hit the halfway mark of the 40 hours of community service; however, I’m planning to offer reading sessions through the summer.”

Gomeau moved with his family – mom Melissa, dad Rob and 11-year-old sister Nara – to the Back Mountain area last June from Amherst, N.H. He has three “crazy dogs that love to bark.”

When he’s not reading to children online, Gomeau plays guitar, runs cross country and track and plays video games. He loves to travel and hopes to visit all 50 states – and not just virtually.