Imani Henry used to cry at night because she couldn’t read well.
“I had a birth defect that impaired my vision,” says Imani, who as a young girl could only see from one eye. “I thought there was something wrong with me.”
Imani got treatment for her vision, including corrective lenses and medication, but she still struggled with reading at grade level. During this time, she relied on encouragement from her brothers and her father. “They would read to me every night,” Imani says. “That really kept me going.”
With support from her brothers, father and volunteer tutors with Reading Assists, she was able to overcome her reading struggles.
Now 14, Imani is the proud CEO of 100 Men Reading, a Wilmington, Delaware-based program designed to bring positive male role models – like the men in her family – into preschools, childcare centers and elementary schools for story time and book giveaways.
Program participants each get a new book and each is paired with a reading buddy – a male role model who reads the book to the child. The volunteer reading buddies are often professional men, including doctors, lawyers and bankers.
The venture is a family affair. Imani calls her mother, Stacey Henry, her inspiration. “She was always very involved in the community,” Imani says, “and I’d always go with her.”
When Imani was 10, her mother was working with the children’s literacy nonprofit Reading is Fundamental, or RIF. The organization was looking for fresh project ideas and Imani’s mom encouraged her to come up with something to submit.
Imani suggested they do something that involves men, as a nod to her brothers and father. In 2011, RIF gave her the grant money to start 100 Men Reading.
The idea was to have 100 men go into classrooms to read to children in preschool through third grade. So far, 100 Men Reading volunteers have read to more than 15,000 children in 125 schools and childcare centers.
Now, Imani is looking to expand. She credits her Peace First Prize fellowship – an honor bestowed to young people making change in their communities – for helping her move the work forward. This month in New York, she will announce the program’s national launch, and later this year she will travel to Puerto Rico with 100 Men Reading.
Being able to serve so many children has been an honor for Imani.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” she says. “It’s indescribable.”
Want to serve your community during National Volunteer Week and beyond? Find volunteer opportunities in your area at AllforGood.org.