Since literacy is one of the most powerful predictors of a child's future success, improving literacy levels, especially in young children, is one of the greatest community challenges in Alabama. Nathaniel Kissel, a seventeen-year-old student from Montgomery, AL, has taken on the challenge of addressing the literacy needs of his community.
Nathaniel not only serves as a personal tutor to an at-risk seven-year-old from a low-income housing area, which he has been doing for the past two years, he also inspires community service among his peers through Tomorrow's Voices, a unique organization he founded in 1996. The main goal of this organization is "to reduce illiteracy among today's children and promote enthusiasm among young people to read."
Upon the birth of Tomorrow's Voices, Nathaniel solicited a small group of 14 to 18-year-olds and directed them in their first project—to collect as many children's books as possible and distribute them to low-income children. Nathaniel researched the issues and recognized that many low-income children lack appropriate reading material at home. He developed a plan and with the initial eight members of Tomorrow's Voices, established 21 sites to collect new and used children's books. Nathaniel then approached the media and solicited their help to publicize the organization's cause and to promote its book collection efforts. All monetary resources for the project were raised by organization members and Nathaniel personally volunteered eight to ten hours per week during the four months leading up to their first big distribution.
Nathaniel and Tomorrow's Voices chose "Operation Care" as the setting for their book distribution because they felt that the children who would be participating were exactly the type of children that they were trying to reach. "Operation Care", held May 3-4, 1997, was a two-day mission to provide for the immediate healthcare needs of the thousands of medically under-served citizens of Montgomery County. Over 2,000 people received free medical and dental care, hot meals, and social services. Tomorrow's Voices distributed more than 1,400 books to children ages 3 to 14. Tomorrow's Voices volunteers read to the children, provided an area for the children to sit and read, and talked with parents about the importance of reading to their children.
Today, with an average of seven active volunteers, Nathaniel and Tomorrow's Voices continue to individually address literacy problems through tutoring and book collection. The group is currently running a "Reading is Fun" project with a goal to get as many children as possible to read at least five books within a three-month period. They plan on doing this by giving each child some type of treat for every five books read. Volunteers have already successfully gone to area business like McDonalds and Domino's Pizza for donations, in the form of gift certificates, etc., to give the children as treats. After getting $2,000 worth of art work donated to Tomorrow's Voices, they developed a poster to promote the "Reading is Fun" project, and have put up the posters all around town, in the libraries and schools in preparation for the fall, which is the project's next start time.