Promoting Youth Literacy

For my Capstone project, through the Montgomery Leadership Program 2019 I chose to do a project that I hold near and dear to my heart.

As last fall came to a close, my peers asked me why I wouldn’t do a project that would help to boost my academic resume and potentially help me to get my post-college dream job. Suggestions came in about doing some kind of broadcasting event that I could stick to my demo or partnering with a local station to boost my list of accomplishments.

Of course this made sense, but I knew it wasn’t my project.

I decided to do a literacy promotion project in Starkville, Mississippi. After moving to this city – I quickly realized the ability to read was a skill that not everyone had. The literacy rate for the state of Mississippi is the lowest in the entire United States. I saw this as a huge problem – a problem I wanted to give my time to.

Reading is at the center of everything. I believe that a book can change a persons life.

I began brainstorming through all of the different things I could do. From book drives, to book bins set up community wide I was trying to figure out how I could most effectively promote youth reading that could possibly outlive my stay in the south.

The MLP graduate assistants helped me to focus my goals for the project along with pushing me to visit the local library.

I got in contact with the Children’s Librarian at the Starkville Public Library and the wonderful people there supported my pitch for an interactive story time with professionals in the community.

I invited people to come and read Dr. Seuss books to children on three Saturdays in March. There are weekly story time events already taking place, however many parents expressed to me their children can never come because the parents work during the week. I asked them if Saturday was a better option and if the time worked out okay, and the affirming response was overwhelming.

The first interactive story time day was a blast, and the kids loved it. They got to meet and take photos with a Starkville police officer who read a few classics. After the kids got to take home book marks and free ice cream scoop coupons, courtesy of Bop’s Frozen Custard. The kids face’s lit up when they hear ‘ice cream’. When Bop’s Frozen Custard agreed to partner with me for this project, I was beyond thrilled that the community saw youth literacy as important as I did.

The second story time was also a hit, I saw some familiar faces who came to listen to a local radio station manager who also does on-air sports announcing. The parents thought it was awesome to see him and the kids loved getting their pictures taken with him as well.

The third and final story time was bittersweet because I saw the community become invested in this project just as I did.

The guest readers were two lovely ladies – April is an EMT and Candace is a Paramedic. These two women actually contacted me, asking how they could get involved. The two shared with me the impact that events like these have on kids in the community.

These women explained to me that seeing an EMT or Paramedic in a good situation makes it easier for kids when they see them in crisis or negative situations. They said it helps kids not be so scared in the future.

The point of this project, is to encourage reading and to bring accessibility of books to children. When I see kids come to these events and get excited about picking books up off the shelves – it’s incredible. They try to read and they end up checking books out and wanting to come back.

The best part of this entire event was seeing so many pieces of the community come together to support a common cause. I loved being a part of this, and I can not wait until the next event.

I plan to continue this project in my hometown, where I plan on being this upcoming summer, following graduation. This event sparked so much joy and involvement from people in the Starkville community which makes me excited to continue to develop this project elsewhere.