Do you know what happens if you give a pig a pancake?

Andrea Nicolopoulos does. The mother of four and broker with First Union Securities in Oak Brook, Ill., is in the know because she's read “When You Give a Pig a Pancake” to equally curious second-graders.

Nicolopoulos also knows exactly how “Ming Lo Moves the Mountain.”

Every Monday and Tuesday, Nicolopoulos drives to Stella May Swartz Elementary School in neighboring Oakbrook Terrace to spend an hour or so reading children's titles to several classes. It's part of First Union's award-winning Reading First program, launched in 1997.

“I am a very busy mother of four, and I'm also trying to run my book, but I have started to realize that the best devotion of my time, as far as payoff in the long run, is really with my children,” Nicolopoulos says.

Under the Reading First program, First Union employees spend time in local schools reading books recommended and supplied by the firm. The typical commitment is one reading session a week for 30 weeks. When they're done, the employees donate the books to the school library.

Nicolopoulos chose Stella May Swartz school because that's where her twin daughters, Emily and Madeline, attend second grade. So she's reading to both of their classes, as well as to children in one more second-grade class.

“I've also been a Girl Scout leader for the past four years, so I know a lot of the kids,” Nicolopoulos says. “I've been somewhat successful in my business, and my husband is a wonderful guy helping me out at home so I can do that, but this is the stuff that really counts.”

Nicolopoulos says she stumbled across the Reading First program while clicking through First Union's corporate Intranet site, looking for some information for a client.

“When I read the information, I thought, ‘This sounds great.’” She filled out an application, contacted the school librarian and received a shipment of books from First Union in early November.

Nicolopoulos asked the librarian for help selecting the books to read because she wanted to make sure she picked titles that the library didn't already carry. The library only stocked about 10 of the 30 titles on the Reading First list.

Three other titles that Nicolopoulos decided on are “Livingstone Mouse,” “A Weekend With Wendell” and “The Best Place.”

“The incentive for me is giving back to the community and doing something neat with my kids,” Nicolopoulos says. “And the school receives some really beautiful books.”

Despite the recent turmoil caused by several acquisitions and a business realignment at First Union, it's comforting to know the firm remains active in the community, according to Nicolopoulos.

“Sometimes it's hard to come up with a whole lot of nice things to say about your firm when things get frustrating,” she says. “But this is something that they've done a great job with.”

In fact, the company says it has received the prestigious President's Service Award, the nation's highest honor for volunteer service, in recognition of Education First, which includes the Reading First initiative. In 1999, First Union volunteers read to children in more than 38,000 classrooms.