A West Virginia organization dedicated to inspiring a love of reading in children throughout the state got a boost this week when it was selected by UPS Store, Inc. as one of 10 nonprofits in the nation to receive $10,000 worth of books from Scholastic.
Read Aloud West Virginia, which currently serves 32 counties in the state, was selected after Lesley McCallister, a volunteer with the program in Kanawha County, received an email about UPS’s competition and nominated the nonprofit, said Mary Kay Bond, executive director of Read Aloud West Virginia.
“It’s truly thrilling. I think it is a real tribute to the work our volunteers have done, and to the people who have donated in order to help Read Aloud reboot,” Bond said. “We’ve had a lot of individuals and corporate sponsors and foundations that have really decided this is something we’re committed to. We want to make this commitment to the children of West Virginia.”
UPS’s contest was meant to honor the 10th anniversary of the Toys For Tots Literacy Program, according to a news release from the company. More than 1,000 programs nationwide were nominated for the competition, and the 10 that were selected were chosen based on their dedication to supporting literacy efforts in underserved communities.
Read Aloud will be able to choose any books it would like from Scholastic, up to the $10,000 maximum, which Bond said is a huge help for the organization, since one of the biggest challenges for promoting literacy efforts in the state is a basic one: access to materials.
“Many of our schools don’t have libraries, and many of our children are a great distance away from a public library or a bookstore,” Bond said. “It’s difficult to become a proficient reader without the equipment for reading. I often compare it to basketball or other sports; you wouldn’t expect a child to become great at basketball if they don’t have a ball or a hoop. Books are our equipment.”
The organization mostly caters to children in pre-k through 6th grade, Bond said, and this money will help them check off some books that are often requested by schools or students. They will also be looking to purchase baby books for parents in an effort to promote early childhood reading, which Bond feels parents can sometimes overlook.
“Your baby is picking up words from day one, and whether you’re reading from a book or talking to your spouse, those words are going into your child’s verbal toolbox. If you begin reading to them from a young age, that child will have more words to use to express himself or herself,” Bond said. “You are accomplishing something when you are exposing a child to a rich vocabulary. They say habits are caught not taught, and that’s true of reading.”
Promoting literacy can also play into economic development in the state, Bond said, as the first step to an educated workforce is a literate population.
For Bond, being selected as one of 10 programs in the nation is a reminder that, no matter how negatively some people may view the Mountain State, there are still great things here residents should be proud of.
“I think it’s nice for West Virginians to know that this is a homegrown organization, this is an organization they have supported with their time and their money, and I think this recognition — as one of 10 in the nation — says that West Virginia is up there, and can compete with any other state,” Bond said. “This is something West Virginians did on their own, and far too often I think we as West Virginians may not give ourselves the credit to be in the forefront of positive things, but we are. We shouldn’t ever forget that.”