If you were lucky, you may have had a teacher in your life that went beyond the call — that was a special person who took it upon himself or herself to inspire the love and joy of reading. If you were in a particular classroom in Washington, D.C. one November day in 1966, that special teacher might have been Margaret McNamara. On that day, McNamara and a group of local teachers and school volunteers launched a reading and book distribution program with the simple goal of providing access, and igniting the joys and value of reading. They called the program Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), and from that pilot project at three elementary schools, the program quickly grew to reach children in sixty of the city’s public schools. Two years later, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, RIF created a model program and began replicating it across the country, eventually becoming the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States.
Unfortunately, the need for McNamara’s program has only become more, rather than less relevant, since the 1960s. Today, over 93 million American adults have limited reading and quantitative skills, and leaders in the fields of politics and education are taking notice. “I believe that if we want to give our children the best possible chance in life; if we want to open doors of opportunity while they’re young and teach them the skills they’ll need to succeed later on, then one of our greatest responsibilities as citizens, as educators, and as parents is to ensure that every American child can read and read well,” said President Obama in a speech titled ‘Literacy and Education in a 21st-Century Economy.’
It’s a mission Barnes & Noble College shares and has supported for many years through its contributions of books and financial support. “Our partnership with Reading is Fundamental has always been important to us,” explains Jade Roth, Chief Product Officer, Digital Education and Vice President, Books & Digital Strategy for Barnes & Noble College. “It’s a relationship that’s central to who we are and to our mission of supporting education.”
Literacy is not just an education issue, studies have shown literacy is tied to better health, employment and contributes to an overall higher standard of living. Literate individuals tend to keep themselves and their families healthier because they are capable of accessing important information, calculating medication and filling out official forms — including the ability to read and complete voting ballots.
With contributions from corporations like Barnes & Noble College, foundations, community organizations, and thousands of individuals, RIF’s expansion has continued to serve over 1 million children across the country. As Roth explains, “Reading is Fundamental knows the value education brings to society. We’re proud to support organizations that support literacy – that’s just part of our DNA.”
For more information on Reading is Fundamental and how RIF provides books to kids who need them the most, visit www.RIF.org.