Amy Rosenthal started Club READ at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in September 2005. The club currently has 15 active student members whose mission is to bring the pleasures and enrichment of reading to children in underserved populations. Members present reading programs to children in public libraries and homeless shelters. They also collect and donate good-quality, appropriate children’s books in both English and Spanish to the nonprofit group, Reach Out and Read, which places the books in the waiting rooms of public health centers in low-income areas of Washington, DC. The children who visit the doctors at these centers can then select a book to take home.
There is a profound need for literacy-building activities among lower income and underserved children in the Washington, DC area. Literacy is essential to success in school and in the job market. Children from the populations served by Club READ are vulnerable to the problems of under- and unemployment created by low literacy. The Washington, DC area has literacy levels that are substantially lower than those in the nation overall (DC State of the Workforce Report, 2003). According to the 2003 Mayor’s Literacy Initiative, literacy programs in the district are serving only 10% of the target population. Club READ both supports an existing network of literacy initiatives and contributes unique literacy-building activities for at-risk children.
Club READ’s 15 members meet on a regular basis, and since September 2005 have collected and donated approximately 2,000 books by gathering unsold books from used-book sales, conducting neighborhood book drives, and collecting donations from Montgomery County public libraries. In addition to the reading programs they present, members bring related craft projects for the children to create and take home. Club READ has established collaborative working relationships with Reach Out and Read, public libraries, and the Green Tree homeless shelter.
Each of the 2,000 books donated by Club READ will become the property of a child in the population most vulnerable to low literacy. In addition, the club’s programs at libraries and the Green Tree shelter bring the social, cognitive, and emotional benefits of literacy activities to numerous children. The working relationships that Ms. Rosenthal and her team have established with these organizations are the basis for the club’s productive first year and its expansion in coming years. Because Club READ is school-based, it has a ready supply of volunteers and can continue to build its book supply sources, its donations to and bonds with community groups, and its repertoire of instructional activities for children.