In October 2020, Read Better Be Better held its first online Fall Fundraiser to support our literacy and leadership program which, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has transitioned from our traditional after-school format to an at-home version. The response to our fundraiser was overwhelming and, thanks to our supporters, over $31,000 was raised in just five days.
Afterward, we were heartened to learn more about the people who are supporting our students. A total of 84 people from 8 different states donated to RBBB and, of those, an astounding 60% were first-time donors. Our supporters represent a diverse group of people, some we knew prior to the fundraiser and some we connected with for the first time through the campaign. We’d like to introduce you to a few of them and highlight some of the reasons why they participated in our campaign.
Keith Drunasky, parent of a former RBBB 3rd grade Reader
Comprehension and writing were giving Keith’s son some difficulty before the 3rd grader joined RBBB’s program. “The help and extra attention that was given our child while participating in RBBB was tremendous, and he is now a very good reader, [he] is able to detail what the story is about, and turn that into meaningful schoolwork,” Keith says. “We appreciate that and want others to have the same experience.”
Keith’s donation was spurred not only from his son’s experience but because of the importance of literacy over a lifetime. “Comprehension and literacy skills will be with you and you will use them for the rest of your life,” he says. “It is extremely important to get these skills honed in and become your own expert to make life better later on.”
Tobe Okeke, former RBBB District Leader
RBBB often serves as a bridge to a career in education through our Site Leader position. Site Leaders facilitate the program, either at schools for our traditional program or through weekly phone check-ins for our virtual program. We are proud of our Site Leaders, former and present, for the amazing work they do while with RBBB and the paths they take afterward, educational or otherwise.
For Tobe Okeke—who worked for RBBB during 2019 and was a Site Leader during the Fall 2019 semester—literacy is not only crucial for each individual but for society as well. “I think if we want a free and healthy community, then it goes hand-in-hand that we want literate actors in our community,” she explains. “Literacy in many facets is a prerequisite for individuals to be self-sufficient and actively participate in our community. This means capable individuals with an absence of literacy skills will often face socio-economic barriers.”
“I think that when one member of our community suffers at the hands of these barriers,” she continues, “Then the whole community suffers and it diminishes the degree to which we can say our community is free and healthy. In short, access to literacy defines what kind of community we are.”
Tobe believes that RBBB is one means of achieving that free and healthy community. “What RBBB does matters and it is effective,” she says. “I earnestly believe RBBB is providing a pathway for a better tomorrow. I believe in that tomorrow, I believe that it is possible to be achieved, I believe in the RBBB vision, and I would like to see it fully realized.
Rebecca Sherod, former RBBB Site Leader
Rebecca Sherod, who worked for RBBB from the Fall 2015 semester to Spring 2017, echoes Tobe’s comments. “Reading is a fundamental skill that has a crucial impact on your entire life,” she says. “Knowing how to read well unlocks countless opportunities. When I worked at RBBB, Sophie (Etchart, CEO and Founder) always talked about reading and literacy as a stepping-stone for getting out of or breaking the cycle of poverty. I love RBBB because it impacts not only the communities the program it is being implemented in, but also the community of people who come together to run the program.”
That impact extends to Rebecca’s life as well. As a graduate of ASU with a degree in early childhood and special education, “RBBB has played such a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of my educational career and goals, and how I view myself both as an educator and as an advocate for kids,” she explains.
Rebecca is set to graduate from the University of Kansas with a master’s degree in special education and high-incidence disabilities in December of 2020. She is currently working on a research team in the Department of Special Education to create comprehensive systems that support students academically, behaviorally, and socially using a data-informed approach. “RBBB was the first chance I had to be a part of something that was actually creating change in the education system. I loved being part of a community of people who all came from different backgrounds but shared a common goal and a commitment to the work we were a part of.”
Melissa Lien, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at Expect More Arizona
Melissa’s support stems from a strong belief in RBBB’s mission and respect for the organization’s team. “I’ve also been impressed by how efficiently RBBB adapted to the environment created by the ongoing pandemic and found a way to continue to serve students,” she says, adding that, “School-community partnerships are so important in Arizona. With schools strapped for resources and educators stretched thin, organizations such as RBBB are essential to addressing the individual learning needs of our kids.”
Like Keith, Melissa also champions the lifelong impact of literacy. “Literacy is so much more than being able to pick up a book and read a story, although that’s a really awesome benefit!” she explains. “Literacy allows us to engage socially in our community. Whether we’re reading a textbook or a text message, being able to read and write means being able to communicate effectively, keep up with current events, and understand the issues shaping our world. The ability to read and write simply opens the door to a lifetime of possibility.”
Mary Hegeman, former 6th grade Teacher at Bala Cynwyd Middle School in Pennsylvania
Mary found out about our Fall Fundraiser through a post on the Facebook page of Anne Clark, RBBB’s Human Resources and Recruitment Coordinator. It turns out that Mary was Anne’s 6th grade teacher. When Mary learned about RBBB’s mission, “I responded to the call. As a former teacher, literacy is very important.”
In fact, it was because of literacy that Mary became a teacher in the first place. Before she entered the education field, Mary worked in the corporate world. She was the supervisor for a 20-year-old employee who, she discovered after hiring him, was illiterate. The company offered him no help in learning how to read and write, instead, Mary was directed to fire him. That experience, she says, “was the worst thing I ever had to do.” But the situation motivated her to quit the corporate world and return to college in her 30s to become a teacher.
“Right now we’re in trying times,” Mary says. “It’s so difficult for families to take on the responsibility of guiding children through the reading process at home. RBBB provides wonderful assistance to keep the reading going so that kids don’t miss out. You have to know how to read.”
Whether you are a member of the Arizona community or that of another state, your donation shows that you care deeply about literacy, Arizona’s children, and their futures. Thank you to each and every one of our supporters for your commitment and dedication to our students, which continues to fuel our program.