Literacy Unlocks the Door

You’re reading this blog, which means you can read. Reading is something you do hundreds of times every day and probably take for granted. But for many children, reading is a struggle that affects their success in school and everyday life.

The National AfterSchool Association tells us, “Avid readers of all backgrounds are higher achievers than students who seldom read. Indeed, the achievement gap between white students and students of color disappears when both read widely and passionately.”

Hilltop After-school & Summer ProgramsWhen you think of the LSS mission, childhood literacy probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But, reading is an essential element of several LSS programs for children and youth. We’re very fortunate that Summit Oaks Center, Canyon Hills Center, Arise Youth Center/West, and the Hilltop After-School and Summer Program have received grants recently to expand their library collections and provide access to electronic books.

At Arise Youth Center/West in Rapid City, a grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation bought four e-readers so youth in this program could choose from a huge range of electronic books. Arise/West provides shelter and services for youth who are runaways, homeless, or have gotten in trouble with the law. The youth get together once a week for a book discussion. Sometimes they read the same book, and sometimes they talk about different books that each has enjoyed. The Arise director says youth will even give up their limited TV time to finish reading their next chapter.

Youth residential programs Summit Oaks Center and Canyon Hills Center each have on-site schools with their own school libraries. But, these small libraries with their aging collections couldn’t keep up with the needs of boys and girls whose reading levels can range from 2nd grade through high school. Each program just received grants from the Laura Bush Foundation to buy hundreds of new library books that fit the interests and reading levels of the students.

At the Hilltop After-School and Summer Program, kids in kindergarten through 5th grade have a safe and fun place to be while their parents are working. About half of the children at Hilltop are newcomers to the United States and are learning to speak and read English. Their library room is a favorite hangout, especially with all the comfy beanbag chairs to enjoy a favorite book. Some of the books were bought with grants, and some have been donated after they’ve been well loved by their first owners. The kids have devoured all the books in their little library and can’t wait to get more.

LSS recently applied for a new grant to add to the library collection, and the application asked how many books the library has and what condition they’re in. In just one afternoon, a group of 4th and 5th graders counted all of the books (there are 1,044, but most are pretty thin) and graded their condition (27% are in just fair or poor condition). They even figured out the percentages on their own!

Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.”—Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations


Kathy Bangasser, CFRE, LSS Grants Officer

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