A famous quote from Mark Twain says “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
The bookworm and the writer in me love that quote, but when I really started to think about it, I realized that the advantages we gain when we learn to read are substantial. Millions and millions of doors are open to us that we need only take the time to walk through. Reading, for true science, science fiction and fantasy fans, opens up not only this world but worlds that are nearly beyond imagination. Books take us on journeys we could never take, put us up-close-and-personal with individuals we could never meet.
Reading gives us lessons from yesterday, news of today and dreams for tomorrow.
But for so many across our globe, those doors are closed, those journeys are off-limits, simply because they have never learned to read.
If you’re like me, your mind’s eye may have conjured up a picture of a young girl in a foreign land who is denied an education. She exists, and she needs help. But so, too, do the children in our neighborhoods, our counties, our state and our nation who lack access to the tools to prepare them for a life of learning.
Research by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found that 37% of children arrive at kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning, and a book titled “Generation to Generation: Realizing the Promise of Family Literacy” reports that half of children from low-income communities are up to TWO YEARS behind when they START first grade.
A 2013 study by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits found that 68% of fourth-graders in Georgia were not proficient readers. That’s nearly 7 in 10! And the consequences are staggering. The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that children are four times more likely to drop out of school if they aren’t reading at grade level by the time they complete third grade. (All stats and more can be found at http://www.ferstfoundation.org/resources/fifty-top-literacy-statistics.)
I heard these stats and others last fall when the literacy coordinator for a local school system spoke at our Rotary Club. My heart was pounding as I realized how great the need is in the communities in which I live and work.
But what can I do to make a difference? I’m so glad I asked that question.
I did some research about literacy efforts in my own community and discovered the Ferst Foundation, a Georgia-based non-profit that seeks to put books in the hands of children from birth through age 5. You may wonder, as I did at first, what a child that young would do with books. But the books are sent one per month to the home of the child along with a newsletter that teaches the parent or other adult how to use the age-appropriate book to read and interact with the child.
The National Commission on Reading, in 1985, found that the number one factor influencing early educational success is being introduced to books and to read at home at an early age — well before reaching school age. A 2010 study on Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that the presence of books in the home impacts a child more than twice as much as the father’s level of education. The impact is real, and I’m happy to have found an opportunity to volunteer with the Ferst Foundation’s Community Action Team in the community where I work.
Over the past year, the Ferst Foundation of Floyd County has been raising funds, and we have recently begun to enroll children in the literacy program. Our aim is to have the first 100 children registered by the end of this month. We’re looking forward to seeing that number continue to grow and hope to soon be able to enroll local children when they are born.
For me, the opportunity to serve in the area of literacy fits perfectly with my passions for reading and writing and for making a difference in my community. Education impacts so many areas of life, and we can help children be better equipped when they start school.
I found this passion, in part, because of The Pink Typewriter Project. Because of this blog, I stopped for a moment to think about my interests and my strengths and how they intersected with the needs around me. I was blessed to find a group of like-minded individuals already at work in this area.
Today at Rotary, I heard a speaker who felt called to start a work to fight human trafficking in Georgia and who is making a difference. My friend and fellow Pink Typewriter guru, Dana, has a passion for animal rescue and volunteers to support related causes. Can any one of us change these problems — illiteracy, human trafficking, and animal cruelty — on our own? No, but each of us can do our part.
So, I encourage you to find your niche of service, if you haven’t already. Look inwardly and ask what causes really touch your heart and then look around and see how you can get involved making a difference.
In addition to promoting positive thinking and embracing gratitude, the Pink Typewriter Project is here to be a blessing to others and to encourage you to do the same. Do you have a favorite way to serve others? Share it in the comments below. Also, if you’re not already receiving our e-newsletter, sign up using the form on this page and keep up with our latest posts and future events.