Archive for the ‘Literacy Organizations’ Category

Spotlight on Literacy Organizations: First Book

February 1, 2011

Today, I am honored to have Kyle Zimmer, co-founder of First Book, guest post.  Since 1992, First Book has distributed over 80 million brand new books to children who might not have the opportunity to own their own books.  Please read how First Book got started and how you can help get books in the hands of children!

More than twenty years ago I was working as a lawyer, and I volunteered as a reading tutor at a soup kitchen in Washington D.C.  The kids I met there were bright and eager to learn, but they faced a huge obstacle – they had no books of their own.

Learning to read is critical to a child’s success in school and throughout life. As Carol Rasco and our friends at RIF know, reading is indeed fundamental.  Over the years, study after study has shown that the number of books in the home directly predicts reading achievement. And while many kids from middle- and upper-class homes have personal libraries, their counterparts from low-income communities – the children I met in that soup kitchen all those years ago and millions more across the country have no books at all.

That’s why two friends and I started First Book – a nonprofit organization dedicated to making sure that children from low-income communities have access to a steady, ongoing supply of new, high-quality books.

First Book works directly with programs that serve these children – Title I schools, after-school reading programs, Head Start programs, shelters, food banks and literacy organizations of all kinds – to make sure that they have what they need: access to new books and educational materials. First Book’s resources are helping these heroic educators elevate and enrich the learning experience for the children they serve.

The level of quality is important.  First Book strives to provide excellent books – including Newbery and Caldecott winners and classics of children’s literature.  Kids need access to a rich diet of books and reading material if they are to become lifelong readers.

Since 1992, First Book has distributed over 80 million brand-new books – for free or at deeply-discounted prices – to millions of children across the United States and Canada.  Educators and program leaders tell us how the books we provide have increased the success of their reading programs, and their children are more enthusiastic readers. However, as delighted as we are with our progress, we know there is much more work to be done. The need is enormous – and with even more children growing up in poverty today, we need to reach every child in every classroom and every program to make a difference.  We can’t do this alone.  We need your help.

How you can get involved

Donate: Every $2 donated to First Book provides a brand-new book for a child in need. You can donate online, or contact us at 866-READ-NOW.

Registration: We are eager to expand our network so more schools and programs can access our books and resources.   If you know of programs that serve children in need,  encourage them to register with First Book. Once they do, they’ll be eligible to purchase brand-new books at deep discounts on the First Book Marketplace. They’ll also be updated about free books and other special opportunities.

Online: If you want to stay updated about First Book, visit our website at You can also follow us on our blog, on Facebook or on Twitter.

When You Read with a Child, Everybody Wins!

December 16, 2010

I am so pleased to share this guest post by Rich Greif today.  Rich is the National Executive Director of Everybody Wins!, a mentor/reading program founded in 1991.  Everybody Wins! Power Lunch program matches adults with low income children who need a mentor.  Read this fantastic post to learn how Rich started as an Everybody Wins! Power Lunch mentor, how the Power Lunch program is proven to help children improve or maintain their reading proficiency, and how we, as individuals, can attempt to help fix the national literacy crisis.  Another one of my like minded Twitter friends, I’m honored Rich agreed to guest post today!

Rich Greif, National Executive Director of Everybody Wins!, with Jamal

We often take our ability to read, write and communicate for granted, the skills that are the very key to success in school, work and in life. Most of us were fortunate to have parents or family members read to us as children, buy us books, and encourage us to read. Unfortunately, there are millions of children in America, especially low-income children, that are at serious risk of not developing these skills, because they do not have access to books, are not being read to at home, may primarily speak another language other than English or they may not have parents that are literate themselves. Children who do not learn to read proficiently by 4th grade are far more likely to drop out of school, commit a crime and be unemployed. Nationally, only 50% of low-income 4th graders can read at or above the basic level, and in many areas, the figures are much worse.

The national literacy crisis can seem daunting and overwhelming. So what can any of us do? I learned firsthand that by focusing on one child, one book at a time, I could make a real difference in a child’s life, and in my own life too. In 1998, I started volunteering for the Everybody Wins! Power Lunch program, where I was matched with a boy named Jamal. Each week during the school year, on the same day and time each week, I would travel with my co-workers to Jamal’s elementary school and read books aloud and share conversation with him. Jamal was a pleasant and well-mannered 2nd grader who seemed to enjoy our time together. Through Everybody Wins!, I received training on both active read-aloud techniques and tips on being a good mentor. Having no children of my own at the time, spending time with Jamal taught me the importance of reading aloud consistently to a child. It also gave me a window into what was happening in our nation’s elementary schools. Jamal and I read together for three years through 4th grade and it was often the highlight of my week.

After our match closed, Jamal and I stayed in touch over the years. This year, Jamal graduated from high school on time and I was thrilled to be at his graduation party where he learned he had received a scholarship to college. He thanked me for being there for him and encouraging him to read, which is still one of his favorite activities. Not surprisingly, reading books is a favorite household activity now that I have two sons of my own.

Everybody Wins! was originally founded in 1991 by Arthur and Phyllis Tannenbaum, with five volunteers reading on their lunch hours in one Manhattan school. Today, there are 14 Everybody Wins! programs around the country serving nearly 12,000 children in more than 180 schools. There are over 600 companies that provide volunteers and local funding support. Companies benefit from the program by providing a well-managed, convenient and rewarding volunteer opportunity for employees that bolsters morale and teamwork skills without any administrative burden.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy was a Power Lunch mentor for 12 years with Everybody Wins! DC. His wife, Vicki Kennedy, is continuing his legacy as a Power Lunch mentor herself. Senator Tom Harkin, also a longtime Power Lunch reading mentor, has said, “With this program, everybody truly does win, especially the children. It is amazing to see the difference that one hour can make in a child’s life.” Senator Harkin and Vicki Kennedy’s involvement in Everybody Wins! was recently featured on the NBC Nightly News.

The Power Lunch program has been proven to help students improve or maintain their reading proficiency, reading-related skills and habits, reading motivation, attitudes toward reading and reading for enjoyment. Teacher assessments show that Power Lunch students experience substantial improvement in reading comprehension, vocabulary, reading ability, listening comprehension, attention span and ability to articulate thoughts. All of these are the early building blocks that are so critical to a child’s literacy skills.

We can’t solve the literacy crisis overnight, but by focusing on one mentor, one child, one book at a time, we can make a real difference in each child we serve. You can help by volunteering, joining a local board, donating, becoming a partner or helping us spread the word. With your help, we can show children not only that reading is important – but that they are important too.

One book, one choice, one child at a time. . .

December 14, 2010

I am so honored to have Carol Rasco, the CEO and President of Reading is Fundamental (RIF), provide a guest post today!  Twitter has been an amazing conduit to meeting many wonderful like-minded literacy friends.  As with Terry last week, and Rich later this week, Carol too, is a Twitter friend.  RIF currently provides books for 4.4 million children annually. Through reading this, I learned so much more about RIF and their outreach.  Read more to learn how RIF works to help the children in communities near you.

Forty-four years ago this week Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) was celebrating six weeks of official existence…an existence that is real today due first to the dream, a simple dream as her daughter put it, of Margaret McNamara whose daughter Margaret Pastor now serves on our RIF Board. Last year Margy wrote of her mother’s belief:

If children were going to have fun in the world and become contributing members of society, they needed to enjoy a lifetime of reading.  These books should relate to their daily lives, and most importantly, the children needed to have their own books.  She believed that if you put books in the hands and the homes of children, this would lead to a life-long love of reading and contribute to a fulfilling life.

And forty-four years later RIF released during our recent birthday month the results of a meta-analytic study we commissioned of Learning Points Associates, now an affiliate of American Institutes for Research (AIR), showing what RIF volunteers and supporters and children have known all along, the premise on which Margaret McNamara founded RIF: children’s book lending and ownership programs were shown to have positive behavioral, educational, and psychological outcomes.

Two years after RIF began in DC, the RIF Board was beginning, through Ford Foundation support, to replicate the core book distribution program in other cities and on the tenth anniversary the federal government started a partnership with RIF that continues – with a struggle – even today allowing RIF to serve children in every state, territory and the District of Columbia, children who are at risk of failure to read well and independently, children with little to no print material in their homes.  At some point this year, as we move toward our 45th birthday celebration, RIF expects to watch a child from among the 4.4 million children we currently serve annually choose book number 500 million.

The word “choice” plays a key role in RIF’s operations.  We believe it is critical in this promotion of the “love of reading” for children to have choices in reading material.   We also encourage local programs to choose themes and methods for motivating and exciting children about reading that fit their own local communities, we allow local book selection committees as certainly RIF national does not know the community needs best for more than 15, 000 local sites!

This core Books for Ownership Program is carried out by more than 400,000 volunteers annually who work to reach children of all ages in a variety of settings—schools, community centers, child care center, churches, hospitals, health clinics and more; three primary service goals guide this work across the country:

  • Provide new, free books and literacy resources to children and their families.
  • Motivate children to read.
  • Generate community support for literacy

Because the book distribution program is carried out in many settings, the criteria and ability for each site to utilize volunteers varies; but many local programs do seek assistance in their work, and I encourage you to visit the locator map not only to find sites near you to support in various ways but also to learn more about the inspiring work RIF volunteers of all ages are carrying out in local communities.  Please note if your state does not have a “heart” feature story at this time you may still click on the state to learn about the scope of RIF in your state and a sampling of the programming there.

I mention above the inspiring work of RIF volunteers;  equally inspiring for those of us working day to day at RIF are the stories RIF kids and former RIF kids share with us about the meaning, the value of the books they received.  Click on Wisconsin’s “heart” on the map and learn how RIF books, the presence of RIF in his life was part of the motivation for Dr. Dale Allender to do well in school and become among other things a professor at UC Berkley!

To build on the books distributed with accompanying motivational activities, RIF works closely with families, educators and community members to address emerging and ongoing literacy issues like significant differences in achievement levels attained by children, early childhood readiness, and the summer slide.

If you have not visited RIF’s award winning websites for children and families I invite you to explore these free sites in English and in Spanish; scroll to the bottom of our homepage and see the ages targeted for the sites:

All of us affiliated with RIF are deeply concerned about recent reports on the lack of reading achievement by young black males in A Call for Change, The Social and Educational Factors Contributing to the Outcomes of Black Males in Urban Schools produced by the Council of the Great City Schools as well as the international standing of our American students in reading found in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results.  We will be seeking collaboration with literacy partners to continue our advocacy work on behalf of all students who face difficulties in achieving high literacy levels.

As a former elementary teacher as well as counselor and through my work in government policy for 18 years prior to joining RIF in late 2001, I am dedicated to the health and education of our nation’s children, particularly those whose various circumstances indicate the need for additional supports.  At Reading Is Fundamental we know this work in creating a literate America is an ongoing, tough process, one carried out one book, one choice, one child at a time, and we welcome you to join our efforts.

Happy Reading,


Blog:  Rasco from RIF

Twitter: @RascofromRIF

The Reading Tub® … What is Your Story?

December 9, 2010

Many special thanks to Terry Doherty who agreed to guest post on Literacy Toolbox.  In the little over a year that I’ve been blogging, I’ve met many like-minded literacy friends through Twitter.  Terry is one of them!  Her desire to share books with children and families inspires me!  Please read her story to find out how she got started and how The Reading Tub has evolved over the years.

And as I pack up a large box of my children’s books to donate to The Reading Tub, I ask, if you have books to donate, consider donating to The Reading Tub this holiday season.

Would you believe that as a little girl my parents didn’t read books with me? It’s true. I don’t have any memories of sitting on my mom’s lap or listening to dad read to us. If anyone was going to read, it would have been my dad. He taught history at a Catholic high school and had a “second job” as wrestling coach to bump up his salary. There were many nights that we were in bed before he got home. My mom has never liked reading, and with three of us and a household to run, she was too tired to do something she didn’t enjoy.

So how did I become a reader? Our house was full of books. We had everything from the newspaper, history books, atlases, and the World Book Encyclopedia to The Cat in the Hat, Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, Heidi, Encyclopedia Brown, and Nancy Drew (among others).

Truth be told, having books around doesn’t guarantee that you’ll become a reader. As I mentioned in my introduction at Booklights, my brothers are more like my mom. As kids they didn’t like to read. I will tell you, though, that they read for pleasure now. They model reading and emphasize the importance of reading with their kids. I like to think it’s because they were used to having books around and that’s what “home” means to them.

In the house we grew up in, almost every book was shelved within our reach. We could thumb through the World Book and look up every gross thing we could think of! Or we could pull a picture book off the shelf when we were playing school. Books were everywhere. We lived in a 3-story rowhouse and there were books on every floor.

And it’s been that way ever since. I’ve always had lots of books around. When we started our adoption journey, one of the first places I went was the bookstore. Long before we knew if it would be a boy or a girl, I started filling bookshelves in the nursery. Some books I remembered from my childhood (like Paddington and The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), but for picture books I went with recognized titles and award-winning books.

To say that they were a hit or miss success with my daughter would be an understatement. This was true not only of books in Catherine’s collection, but the ones we borrowed from the library, too. I was frustrated! How could I get my daughter to love reading if we can’t find something she likes to listen to past the second page? What is the secret to figuring out what will work? Was I the only parent having this problem? My sister-in-law (a high school teacher) said “probably not.” She suggested creating a website for children’s books.

When I started putting together a website in June 2003, I looked at it as the beginning of a new hobby. I loved being a Stay-at-Home Mom, but I missed having something to challenge my mind. I knew diddly squat about how to create a website, but I was intrigued. It would give me the challenge I wanted, but also pull in my love of reading and sharing books with my then 18-month-old daughter.

Three heads are better than one, so I did some research and brainstormed with some friends – both parents of young kids. What we ultimately named The Reading Tub® would be a place to share reviews of children’s books we were reading (or trying to read) with our kids. To add value beyond what you’d find at a bookseller site, and we wanted to have a standard review protocol. In addition to a summary and our thoughts, we included the kids’ opinions of the books; identified any educational opportunities; noted specific pros and cons; recommended 3 similar titles; and closed with a recommendation to buy, borrow, or skip. We launched the website around Halloween 2003 with 50 book profiles in our “book bag.”

In early 2004, authors started finding us. How, I don’t know. Nevertheless, they would ask us to review their books. The shelves started bulging. As grateful as I was for the opportunity to see what was out there, I knew that we didn’t “need” more books. I also knew there were thousands of families who didn’t have one book to share with their kids. So I immediately started the process to transition the Reading Tub, Inc. to a 501(c)(3). The day before Thanksgiving 2004, we received word that we were officially a public charity.

The shift allowed me to draw on my personal experiences, too. When I was growing up, not everyone in our house liked to read. I remember many a summer when my parents struggled to find “the book” that would keep my brothers from whining about having to read. Even now my Mom talks about how even magazine articles can be “too long.” I understood both sides and I wanted the Tub to encourage reading as a family.

The Reading Tub® mantra is “we bring reading home for families.” That captures our family literacy mission in a multitude of ways.

●     We get books to at-risk readers and readers in need. Books given to us are read and then donated to another nonprofit, either a literacy organization or a Title 1 school. Our criteria are that the books go to kids who don’t have books at home and/or are students failing benchmarks for their grade.

●     We offer resources related to reading. Articles and links on the Reading Tub® website ScrubaDubTub (our blog), and the Share a Story Shape a Future literacy blog tour are designed to reassure parents that reading with their kids is doable and provide practical advice about reading.

●     We also help adult caregivers connect kids with books that match their interests. All of the books reviewed on our site (almost 2,000) are read with the target audience.

That last point is very important. Not only does it give us a means of sharing what the kids think about a book, but it also ensures that we walk the talk. If we’re going to promote the importance of reading with your child, then we need to show we’re doing it.

We are an all-volunteer organization, and our reviewers include parents and grandparents, librarians and teachers, and kids of all ages. Being an all volunteer staff has its drawbacks, as there are no real employees; volunteers often don’t have as much time as they thought; and people come and go. I end up wearing a lot of hats, which makes it hard to grow as an organization and launch community programs. As long as we are an independent organization, we’ll stay that way because it ensures that donations fund the mission, not the overhead.

When I wrote the original business plan, one of my goals was for the Reading Tub(r) to be a one-stop shop for family literacy and reading ideas within five years. We’re about to celebrate seven years and it hasn’t happened. Given the nature of the Worldwide Web, it isn’t going to happen. But you know what? That’s okay. It means we’re meant to be something else.

What the Reading Tub, Inc. is – and will continue to be – is an active, available partner to our sister agencies. In the last seven years, the voices for literacy have grown into an orchestra. We each bring to the stage our tune for reaching kids, their families, and their caregivers.

Whether we are a parent that reads with our child, a community volunteer in a classroom, a literacy advocate who travels the country meeting with kids and caregivers, or a blogger who shares their love of reading … we share a common goal: encouraging a love of reading.

Just like finding the right book for Catherine, there is no one way to connect kids and caregivers with books. That “aha” moment is different for each person. But when it happens – that moment when a child holds a book that is all theirs and recognizes its power – it is just beautiful!

Terry Doherty is the Founder and Executive Director of The Reading Tub, Inc., a public charity for family literacy. She is the mom to a soon-to-be nine-year-old bookworm. Terry recently celebrated 20 years of marriage to her best friend. When she’s not writing about children’s books, you’ll usually find her reading one. She lives in Charlottesville, VA, in view of Monticello, home to the man who said “I cannot live without books.” [Thomas Jefferson]

Spotlight On: Literacy Organizations

December 7, 2010

Tis’ the season for giving!  It’s December and we are currently in the midst of Hannukah, with Christmas and Kwanzaa just around the corner!  This month I’m going to spotlight three literacy based organizations.  All three have a staff that is dedicated to giving of their time, especially, but also enhancing literacy for children around the country.  I think it’s important in this crazy month of December to take time to stop and think about ways we can help others.  Today I’ll provide you with a brief overview of each organization, but check back throughout the month for special guest posts!

The Reading Tub, Inc. – The Reading Tub is a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting reading and literacy.  They provide book reviews, author showcases, and literacy links for families.  On Thursday, find out how The Reading Tub got started from the Executive Director, herself, Terry Doherty.

Reading is Fundamental – According to their website, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States. They prepare and motivate children to read by delivering free books and literacy resources to those children and families who need them most.  They inspire children to be lifelong readers through the power of choice.  I’m so excited to have the CEO of RIF as a guest blogger on Tuesday, December 14th!

Everybody Wins! – Their mission:  “Everybody Wins! is a national children’s literacy and mentoring nonprofit proven to build the skills and love of reading among low-income elementary students. By bringing volunteer mentors into schools for weekly one-on-one reading experiences, everybody wins! – children, schools, volunteers, their companies and ultimately, society.”  Rich Greif, the National Executive Director of Everybody Wins!, will guest blog for Literacy Toolbox on Thursday, December 16th!

I’m really so very excited to have all three amazing guest bloggers on Literacy Toolbox this month.  I have been blogging for a little over a year and these are the amazing contacts I’ve made in that time.  This month, I hope that you will read more about them and the organizations that are so dear to them.

Happy Holidays!


©2010 by Dawn Little for Literacy Toolbox. All Rights Reserved.  All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.