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:
- Trying to remember some of those favorite nursery rhymes and finger plays?
- Want to enjoy books online with your pre-school child?
- Eric Carle will read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to you and your child!
- For the school age student: share “book thoughts” with Riffington, play games, experience literary activities!
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.
Blog: Rasco from RIF