Since 1966, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), a nonprofit literacy-enhancing organization, has distributed 380 million new, free books to underprivileged children in the United States. RIF provides these books for children ranging from infancy to the age of eight. Their flagship program, Books for Ownership, allows children to handpick two to five books a year. Volunteers create engaging reading events, revolving around the joy and value of reading, for children and their parents.
While RIF is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States, it is not the only program providing excellent resources to children in need. LitWorld is a courageous nonprofit based in four different countries: the United States, Kenya, the Philippines and Haiti. Created by renowned motivational speaker Pam Alynn, LitWorld believes promoting literacy is more than providing books and education to children and their families; it is also educating teachers who don’t have access to necessary materials. Going into classrooms in poor communities, Alynn and other volunteers work directly with teachers to grant children a well-rounded education, despite their individual situations. Many of these children stop going to school to help their families at home. LitWorld believes strongly “that all children have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.”
Like LitWorld, RIF also has a history of educators spearheading their program. Originally created by a group of teachers from Washington DC, RIF has, at its core, always been about creating a safe environment in every home for young children to learn and create positive connections to reading. Programs hosted by RIF are made possible by the charitable donations of individuals and many companies.
Macy’s has been aiding RIF in their pursuit to raise literacy in America for over ten years. In July, Publishers Weekly announced that together the two companies donated over ten million books since they began their partnership. Donors can contribute any time of year; however, during the summer months, when back-to-school shopping is at its peak, Macy’s in-store customers may donate three dollars directly to RIF when prompted at checkout, which also gives the customer ten dollars off of a fifty-dollar purchase.
The major department store is not the only one to make a difference. In 2012, Barnes & Noble College and MBS Textbook Exchange teamed up through MBS’s charitable program One Planet Books to support RIF. They place used textbook donation boxes for unwanted textbooks at every campus bookstore. For every carton collected, MBS donates ten dollars. The textbooks that are collected are taken to be recycled, keeping them out of landfills. According to the Barnes & Noble College website, students helped make a $53,010 donation to the nonprofit in the 2012 fiscal year.
Other donations come in the form of volunteer effort. Sallie Mae Fund employees have given thousands of hours of volunteer time since 2001. In a news release back in 2009, the Sallie Mae Fund reported 13 separate community volunteer efforts to help children and parents have access to safe and fun literacy events. Sallie Mae has also provided over one million dollars in donations, supplying new books for at-risk youth.
Educating our youth is an extremely important task that is not restricted to the classroom. RIF and programs like it strive to provide books to underprivileged youth, arming them and their parents with the tools necessary to ensure literacy levels across the world are on the rise.
Did You Know?
There is no shortage of charities that promote literacy: some donate books, others provide tutors, some help underprivileged families gain access to resources they need. The following organizations promote literacy in their own unique ways, from pairing with doctors to leading writing workshops.
Open Books, located in Chicago, offers both donated books and literacy programs to students in need. Books collected by Open Books are donated to a used bookstore that is run entirely by a group of volunteers. Any of the proceeds made in selling the books go to maintaining the store, running literacy programs in schools, or to seminars for writing, ranging in topics from nonfiction workshops for grades 3–12 to publishing experiences for teenage authors.
Reach Out And Read, the newest winner of the David M. Rubenstein Prize (an award from the Library of Congress recognizing literacy achievement), prepares young students to succeed. In doing this, they partner with doctors who “prescribe” books and encourage families to read as a group. According to their website, the organization serves over four million students annually through the 5,000 sites spread throughout the nation. Many medical professionals who have joined the program incorporate the importance of reading into their regular pediatric checkups, starting at six months and continuing until age five.
Literacy for Incarcerated Teens (LIT) is the only organization of its kind, working in New York to end illiteracy in incarcerated youth. LIT pairs with the New York City juvenile justice departments and the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) in the promotion of literacy. The nonprofit works to provide author visits and directed discussions, maintain curriculum-approved books for readers ages 8 to 17, and encourage enthusiasm for reading and books. LIT currently has eight locations on the East Coast.