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Fighting Illiteracy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.


     Mylove affair with the written word began in second grade when I became addicted tothe The Baby-Sitters Club series. Ever since, I have read anything that bearsmore than a single letter of the alphabet. Street signs, shampoo bottles,business magazines - if it has writing, then my eyes consume it.

Onemorning during my daily rendezvous with the Raisin Bran box, my eyes stumbled onsome advice from Ghandi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."It made me reflect on what I had accomplished through my recently foundedorganization, Reading Education Awareness Drive.

It began during a carride to figure-skating practice last July. Had I checked the schedule, I wouldhave realized that practice had been cancelled. I also would have missed what Iconsider a life-changing experience. My dad tuned into National Public Radio andI sleepily listened to a story about a man from Virginia who had set up a freebook shop in his basement. People could drop off books that needed a new home;others could adopt as many as they could read. This man's service was anexcellent opportunity for the less fortunate to find something to read.

Bythe end of August, I had initiated my own version of this man's project in myhometown. Entitled Reading Education Awareness Drive (R.E.A.D.), our missionwould be to help share the joy of reading with local underprivileged children.Children would receive gently used donated books, and using informationalpamphlets provided by Reading is Fundamental and the United States Department ofEducation, R.E.A.D. would educate families about the importance of making readinga part of their everyday lives.

With the help of nearly 20 dedicated andimaginative high-school students, and one encouraging English teacher, R.E.A.D.has collected and distributed over 4,500 books. Serving as director, with helpfrom my executive council, I continually hold brainstorming and planningsessions, contact community organizations to plan distribution projects, arrangebook sorting and repair sessions, apply for grants, organize fund raisers, andrecruit new volunteers.

R.E.A.D.'s first distribution project was throughthe Wichita Senior Services Center focusing on Jackie Lugrand's program forchildren being raised by low-income grandparents. Last holiday season, R.E.A.D.partnered with the Wichita Children's Home and The Salvation Army in hopes ofhelping hundreds of youngsters fall in love with reading. R.E.A.D. is beginningan outreach program with local public elementary schools. In addition to our basein Wichita, satellite branches are being started in Ronhert Park, California andExeter, New Hampshire.

Once the barrier of illiteracy is broken, manyother troubles will end. There are all kinds of startling statistics detailingthe high illiteracy rate, but analyzing such numbers isn't necessary when theeffects of illiteracy are evident everywhere. This is why, child by child, bookby book, R.E.A.D. aims to conquer these statistics.

Elizabeth Hardwicksaid, "The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, itconsoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world andexperience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination." In many children'slives, the candle which can only be lit by the passion for reading is faint andflickering. Through R.E.A.D.'s continued efforts, I can only hope for a worldblazing with little bookworms.

If you are interested in becoming involvedwith R.E.A.D. or beginning a branch at your school or in your community, pleasecontact us at donatebooks@ yahoo.com. Together, we can put a book in everychild's hands.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the June 2003 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.






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