giving back

Literacy: Closing the Gap

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According to research in Bridges to Literacy by David K. Dickenson, the home environment – specifically the reading material that is readily available – is a stronger predictor of later academic achievement than socioeconomic status. Let’s compare the statistics.  Research shows that children from high-income communities have 199.1 books per child vs. sixty-one percent of low-income families that have no books in their home for children.  It is easy to see how much this puts children from low-income families at an immediate disadvantage. (Source:

It is a shame that these children from low-income communities do not have access to printed material that is so imperative to their reading acquisition.  The National Education Association states that “students who do more reading at home are better, more proficient readers and have higher math scores.” (Source:

Giving Back

Two organizations that are working hard to close this gap include the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity and the Jet Blue and PBS Kids Soar with Reading program.  Both organizations are working hard to put as many books into the hands of families and communities that might not otherwise have access to books.

I had a chance to speak to Ashley Fiene, the Collegiate Services & Literacy Initiatives Coordinator from Pi Beta Phi Fraternity.  This year marks their 100th year celebration of literacy service.  Their commitment to literacy dates back the founding of a Settlement School over 100 years ago in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Their Read. Lead. Achieve Literacy platform includes a partnership with First Book, Champions are Readers and Arrow in the Attic to name a few.  With the help of their chapters, alumnae organizations and individual members they are able to serve the communities most in need.  I was impressed when Ms. Fiene said that with the help of their literacy partner, First Book, they have donated over 2 million books since the partnership began in 2007.

This year marks the second annual JetBlue’s Soar with Reading summer reading program.  They have teamed up with PBS Kids and Barefoot Books to put age-appropriate books into the hands of children who might not otherwise have access to books.  This helps to keep children reading all through the summer months. Part of the initiative includes working with libraries across the country and hosting Soar with Reading events with activities geared to spark the children’s imaginations and curiosity.

The past month I spoke to Icema Gibbs, the JetBlue Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and she explained how part of their program includes the ability for adults to go to their website, write down their favorite children’s book, and for every online submission, an age-appropriate book will be donated to a deserving child!

It is so wonderful to hear of corporations and organizations that work hard to make sure that all children have access to reading material.  Imagine the difference just one book makes in a household that doesn’t have a single children’s book.  It is truly life-changing work that these two organizations are doing.

To read more about the Pi Beta Phi Read.Lead.Achieve platform go to and to learn how you can donate a book through the Soar with Reading program simply by filling out the online submission go to

What were your favorite books growing up? What are your kids' favorite books?


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About the Author:

Melissa Northway, M.S. is a mom, writer and children’s book author.  Her award-winning book Penelope the Purple Pirate was inspired by her little tomboy.  Penelope is a modern-day Pippi Longstocking who teaches girls and boys the importance of having fun while at the same time teaching them to be kind and respectful of others and their differences.  You can reach Melissa at: www.melissanorthway and follow her @melissanorthway




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