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Fighting Illiteracy: One Book at a Time Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Patrice Hutton, United States Mar 17, 2003
Education , Literacy , Citizen Journalism   Opinions


My love affair with the written word began in second grade as I became addicted to the series The Baby-Sitters Club. Ever since then, I have read anything that bears more than a single letter of the alphabet. Street signs, shampoo bottles, business magazines, if it displayed writing, then my eyes consumed it. It was one morning during my daily rendezvous with the Raisin Bran box that my eyes stumbled upon a bit of advice from Mahatma Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Thinking about what Ghandi had said, I began to reflect upon what I wished to accomplish through my recently founded organization, Reading Education Awareness Drive.
It began during a car ride to morning figure skating practice last July. Had I checked the skating schedule, I would have noticed that practice had been canceled. I also would have missed what I consider to be a life changing experience. My dad turned the radio station to National Public Radio. Sleepily, I listened as a reporter told about a man from Arlington, Virginia who had set up an ongoing free book shop in his basement. People could drop off books that needed a new home; others could adopt as many books as they could take home and read. This man’s service was an excellent opportunity for the less fortunate to find something to read.
By the end of August, I had initiated my own version of this man’s project in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Titled Reading Education Awareness Drive (R.E.A.D.), our mission would be to help share the joy of reading with local underprivileged children. Children would receive donated, gently used books, and using informational pamphlets provided by Reading is Fundamental and the United States Department of Education, R.E.A.D. would educate the children’s families about the importance of making reading a part of their everyday lives.
With the help of a group of nearly twenty dedicated and imaginative high school students, and an encouraging English teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Fry, R.E.A.D. has collected and distributed over 4,500 books to date. Serving as executive director–with aid from my executive council–I continually set up brainstorming/planning sessions, contact community organizations to plan distribution projects, arrange book sorting and repair sessions, apply for grants, organize fund-raisers, and recruit new volunteers. R.E.A.D.’s first distribution project was through the Wichita Senior Services Center focusing on Jackie Lugrand’s program for children being raised by low income grandparents. Last holiday season, R.E.A.D. partnered with the Wichita Children’s Home and Salvation Army in hopes of helping hundreds of youngsters fall in love with reading. R.E.A.D. is beginning an outreach program with local public elementary schools. In addition to R.E.A.D.’s base in Wichita, Kansas, a satellite branch is being set up in at a high school in Ronhert Park, California.
I view illiteracy as a barrier, which once broken will be the end of many other troubles. There are all kinds of startling statistics available detailing the high illiteracy rates; however, analyzing such numbers isn’t necessary when the effects of illiteracy are evident everywhere. This is why, child by child, book by book, R.E.A.D. aims to dampen these effects. Elizabeth Hardwick said “The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” In many children’s lives, the candle which can only be lit by the passion for reading is faint and flickering. Through R.E.A.D.’s continued efforts, I can only hope for a world blazing with little bookworms.
If you are interested in becoming involved with R.E.A.D. or beginning a branch at your school or in your community, please contact us at donatebooks@yahoo.com. Together, we can put a book in every child’s hands.



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