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New York City
September 2003

Large-Scale Efforts to Fight Illiteracy
by Rob Luchow

It was almost a year ago that Reading Rainbow producer and host LeVar Burton made a plea to corporate America. Without enough funding, he said, the famous children’s public television program would be cancelled. Eventually, one business chose to help.

Recently,The Children’s Place, a children’s clothing store with over 600 retail outlets nationwide, announced the start of ReadingUSA—a national children’s literacy and community service campaign. As its first action, CEO Ezra Dabah announced that it would make a major contribution to Reading Rainbow by donating a percentage of its sales to ensure that the show would continue its invaluable programming. Yet for Burton, ReadingUSA’s action is more than just funding. For him, it symbolizes a call to arms for large corporations and organizations to recognize that they must play an active role in helping America’s youth. The fight against illiteracy takes a place on a large-scale and that requires large-scale money and effort.

“I applaud The Children’s Place for being the first company to respond to help fund Reading Rainbow,” said Burton.

Although this is ReadingUSA’s first initiative, according to Dabah, “it is just the beginning.” “ReadingUSA is one way the company can give back to the community and generate excitement about reading and learning,” he said. He plans to expand the program and center it around the concept of reading aloud.

Reading is Fundamental (RIF), the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization, has been a continuous partner with Reading Rainbow. Founded in 1966, their oldest and largest effort is the National Book Program, an opportunity for children to receive two to five free books they can keep for a year. In addition, volunteers hold reading aloud sessions and encourage community members to take an active role in increasing literacy in their area.

Running Start, another of RIFs programs, challenges teachers and parents to encourage first graders to read 21 books in eight to ten weeks. Other projects include a reading mentor program called Club RIF and a family reading program called Family of Readers.

RIF’s mantra is community. Its belief is that children learn to read better when educators, parents and community members all play a role in literacy advancement.

RIF needs funding to accomplish its goals. Corporate America has become active in financing many projects for the organization. The Coca-Cola Company, the organization’s largest donor with a three-year $18 million grant, has been involved with several projects. Included are StoryTravelers, a mobile and interactive nationwide reading project that offers free books and activities, Classroom Library Collections for 10,000 at-risk schools and communities, and Ingenuity grants for researchers looking to advance information on children’s literacy.

For more information on national literacy campaigns, Literacy.org serves as an excellent link to many literacy publications and projects. The site’s major sponsor is the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL). The group was established in 1990 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It receives federal, state and local support as well as private funding from corporations. The group’s goals are to increase effectiveness in youth and adult basic education and literacy work, and to expand access to information.

Since the National Literacy Act of 1991, the federal government established the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) to improve the literacy standards across the country. The group serves as a focal point for public and private activities that support literacy development on the national, state and regional levels. NIFL is the government’s sole federal office focused on literacy and includes a ten-member advisory board composed of prominent individuals from academic and nonprofit institutions, private foundations, and the business and labor sector. The group becomes directly involved in policymaking by linking those in the literacy field with federal and state lawmakers. NIFL also researches literacy in the country through Partnership for Reading and makes information available for the general public. Another focus is on improving services for the learning disabled, promoting improvements in adult literacy, and making all information regarding literacy advancements easily accessible through hot lines and the Internet.#

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Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 1588, New York, NY 10159.
Tel: (212) 477-5600. Fax: (212) 477-5893. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
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