Opening a new book is like taking the first step on a mysterious adventure. You can easily lose yourself for hours in pages filled with fascinating stories, both real and imaginary. The joys and benefits of reading are something that Margaret McNamara, founder of Reading is Fundamental (RIF), deeply believed in. “Reading can open a whole new world for a child who previously has known only the life of a dull city block,” she once said. “Most of us forget that a large percentage of the youngsters in our elementary schools have no books at home, nor easy access to public libraries.”
RIF would be nothing without the volunteers and organizations that have been inspired by its tireless efforts. One of those partners, UGI Utilities, Inc., has been working side by side with RIF since 1991. For over 25 years, UGI has been a proud sponsor of RIF.
As a staple of the community, UGI strives to partner with organizations that can help to make a long-term difference in their own neighborhoods. They’ve volunteered time and resources to RIF by distributing about 54,000 books a year. To date, UGI has distributed 1.5 million books to 400,000 students. For many of them, those are the only books they’ve ever owned. In addition, UGI funds the opportunity for these 1st graders to choose their own books – some of the students even choose bilingual books and then take them home and help to teach their parents to read.
But UGI doesn’t stop its efforts there. It has helped to enliven reading for children by creating a character named “The Reading Wizard.” Ageless and all-knowing, the Wizard has learned all he knows through the power of his books. The Reading Wizard makes guest appearances at book distributions in elementary schools throughout UGI’s service territory, and is greeted with excitement and enthusiasm by children, teachers and administrators. His presence has even deepened parental involvement in helping children improve their reading skills. He’s often requested to appear at book fairs, libraries and other events because he’s so well-liked and effective.
“The RIF program is such an amazing program. We are very appreciative of not only the books the kids receive, but also the time the UGI employees spend reading to the students. I love to watch the excitement the children have listening to the stories and picking out their brand new books. There is no doubt they benefit greatly from this program,” said Elise Buchanan, an RIF coordinator at Lower Allen Elementary School. “But,” she continued, “it’s also fun to watch the enjoyment the UGI employees seem to get from the experience. At one of our events last year, we had a young man reading a book that was new to him and most of our students. At the end of the story, both he and the students were laughing – it was wonderful!”
RIF and UGI, two like-minded organizations, have helped put other literacy solutions in motion, impacting millions of children, and hopefully, leading to a completely literate nation.
America is facing a terrifying literacy crisis today, with 25 million children who cannot read proficiently. That’s because children who get off to a bad start with literacy rarely catch up. Today, 34 percent of children entering kindergarten don’t have the basic skills needed to learn to read. Sixty-five percent of fourth-graders read below their grade level, which studies show has led to 8,000 students dropping out of high school every day. What remains? Only 37 percent of America’s students graduate high-school at or above reading proficiency.
Those aren’t the scariest statistics, either. One says that 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level.
Some of the most important human benefits deriving from knowing how to read can be found in economic security, health care access, and the ability to participate in a citizen’s civic life. According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” So much of this could be rectified by offering just the basic opportunity for every young child to own a book. By sparking an interest in and passion for reading at an early age, the entire direction of a child’s life can be changed.
Thankfully, RIF and partners like UGI serve as leaders in their communities, helping to generate awareness and the sense of urgency that is blatantly lacking on this issue. Literacy and its importance to students throughout America is a message that desperately needs to be heard. The best thing that we as a nation can do is to address this problem at the local level. The personal touch that RIF and UGI bring as they pass out books three times a year to first-graders will make all the difference. By sharing their passion for reading, they can ensure that the impact is felt deep within the local community and beyond.
Every child has the fundamental right to own books, learn how to read, and obtain the building blocks necessary for growth and potential. UGI is proud to support Reading is Fundamental and its mission of transforming lives through books. To find out how to show your support, go to www.rif.org/support-rif
Follow UGI’s alternate Twitter @UGIReads for reading tips, and its UGI Little Reader Picks of the Month.
All facts and statistics provided by RIF, Reading is Fundamental.