Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Wonder of Reading

The final charity in my "charity of the day" series, one I strongly recommend, is a Los Angeles charity called the Wonder of Reading. This is a highly effective, highly efficient program that aims to inspire in children the love of reading, and focuses on children in the greater Los Angeles area elementary schools. They began from an observation of the state of elementary school libraries, many in neglected condition, and with an average copyright date of 1982. (They found schools with books that still said "Someday we will go to the moon.") From this, they formulated their "3R" strategy: renovate, restock, read. With each elementary school they add to the program, they start by renovating the library, making sure that it has adequate shelf space as well as tables, study carrels, and a read-aloud area. They then provide $10,000 worth of new books to substantially improve the stock on the shelves. Finally, they train local volunteers to be "reading partners" for children in the school, with partners committing to spend one hour a week with their assigned student.

The program has been implemented in nearly 150 schools, with over 20 being added each year, and over 400 reading partners being trained each year. They monitor their progress with surveys of teachers, principals, students, and volunteers, and have found consistently high rates of improved reading ability as well as improved confidence and self-esteem in the students. I know this not only from their reported statistics, but also from my own personal experience serving as a reading partner. A few years ago, I had been seeking a volunteer opportunity, but wondered how I could do anything significant with very limited time available. I was surprised and delighted to discover that just one hour a week can make a big difference for a young child. Over the course of a school year, I read with a 2nd grade boy and was able to see his skills and his interest improve, and even be a little bit of a big brother. It was great to see how excited he was to meet for reading each week. For various reasons, I was not able to continue the following year, but now that my job situation has settled down again, I may try to do this again. In the meantime, we will be happy to make a monetary contribution to this excellent organization.

Oh, and can't forget the numbers. The Wonder of Reading (as of their 2003 IRS 990) raised $1.657 million in direct public support with $1.669 million total revenue, supporting a $1.517 million budget. Of that budget, 93.6% went directly to program expense (the lion's share to library renovations and restocking), with a very modest 4% management and 2.2% fundraising. Their fundraising efficiency is 2 cents on the dollar. It doesn't get much better than that!

I hope you will consider making a donation to this very focused, efficient, effective, and worthwhile organization.

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