By Christy Howard Womack
Read To Succeed was established in the summer of 2003. Paul Vaughan, Managing Director of the Jennings and Rebecca Jones Foundation, met with professionals who were involved in literacy programs in Murfreesboro. He offered the Foundation’s resources as support to a new community literacy initiative and this group of dedicated educators, social workers, agency directors, community helpers and volunteers became the Read To Succeed Council. This community partnership was created to promote reading in Rutherford County, with an emphasis on family literacy.
Rutherford County, like most of the United States, has 40% of its citizens who read at a third grade level or below. Approximately 10% read at a first grade level or below, which means that they aren’t capable of reading a menu or a prescription.
Retired Circuit and Senior Judge Steve Daniel saw the problem in his court room. “I got involved because I saw how illiterate a lot of people were and how limited their ability to be able to be productive citizens was associated with their literacy.”
“Read To Succeed has as its mission to advance literacy. That is important because literacy is the key to basic freedom. An illiterate public is easily led and they cannot make informed decisions,” continued Judge Daniel.
Literacy issues cross all spectrums from children to adults to the elderly. Read To Succeed has two main focuses – family literacy and adult literacy. Read To Succeed’s Family Literacy programs serve the child, the adult, and the entire family. With three key programs offered at Title 1 Schools in Rutherford County, as well as select housing developments, Read To Succeed aims to bring the family together to celebrate literacy and the joy of reading. All of the programs –Families That Read, Succeed, Family Literacy Nights, and Imagination Station– address specific literacy needs of the participants. These needs are identified before the program begins and focused on, including skills in phonics, comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness.
Family Literacy Nights provide reading time and supervised literacy activities by teaching reading to children whose parents don’t speak English. Families meet for 1 to 2 hours for one night at their school. The school invites up to 150 students and their families to participate. MTSU education students create and lead fun art, music, and literacy activities related to a carefully chosen book. MTSU, volunteers, and Read To Succeed staffprovide guidance, support, and supervision. RTS provides a meal from a local restaurant to serve each participant. MTSU has been a valued partner in achieving Read To Succeed’s goals. MTSU graduates and graduate students sometimes have their first opportunities to work with educational challenges such as dyslexia, or teaching English to a child whose parents do not speak the language. Each week at these sessions, the student is provided a meal, and is allowed to take home the book they studied that week. MTSU students often take on as a class project, a specific program for that school to work one on one with families.
Imagination Station is a parent-child small group program to encourage the love of reading in toddler and preschool age children. These once a month events are hosted at the various Section 8 housing developments within Rutherford County. Parent and child participate in reading and activity stations based on books by popular children’s authors. Each child is given a copy of the book to take home. Reading tips and resources are provided. Olive Branch Church partners with Read To Succeed to provide programming and a healthy snack for each participant.
The Rotary Club has a nationwide book-sharing program called Little Free Libraries. Little Free Libraries resemble a large birdhouse or mailbox, but surprisingly, they contain free books. Read To Succeed worked with the Murfreesboro City Schools and the Rotary Club to build one at each of the schools in town.
“Many children may not go to the public library, but they are at school every way. It’s another way for RTS to reach out within our community to promote literacy,” explained Daniel. The libraries run on the honor system. The children take a book and return a book.
The Adult Literacy Program works with adults 18 years-of-age and older to provide one-on-one tutoring in basic literacy at no cost to the learner. The program provides a free 6-hour training course to teach volunteer tutors how to work with adults. The tutors are then paired one-on-one with adult learners based on the tutor’s interest and tutoring frequently goes beyond simple literacy to include things like financial literacy (apply for a mortgage, etc.) or health literacy (dealing with a medical diagnosis). Tutors help students learn how to apply for college, complete the FAFSA, and a whole host of other life skills.
Read To Succeed also hosts ESL classes at seven locations throughout the county for adults seeking to improve their reading, writing, listening and speaking abilities. They also provide a training program for medical providers to teach them to identify patients that are struggling with reading, who might be embarrassed to seek help on their own.
Read To Succeed’s primary fundraiser is its annual Celebrity Spelling Bee in November. Local “celebrities” participate in the spelling bee and dinner to raise funds. Dr. Kathryn McPherson was the 2015 Celebrity Bee winner. Other funding comes from United Way and various literacy grants.
Reading in the Schools Day is another popular annual event of Read To Succeed. Every classroom K-6th grade in the Rutherford County elementary schools, private schools, and Murfreesboro City Schools participate in this annual event. Over 1,000 classrooms and 20,000 children have volunteer readers in their classrooms sometime during the day. The mayors, business people and families of the students all participate.
In fact Read To Succeed is powered by volunteers from the Rutherford County community. Over 1,200 volunteers tutor and participate in these programs each year. Managing that schedule goes to the only full-time employee Lisa Mitchell. A successful businesswoman in the corporate world, Lisa read in the Daily News Journal about the retirement of founder Ronnie Shaw and was intrigued enough to apply. After a lengthy interview process, Lisa was hooked. “I really wanted to take this program to the next level, and I have become more passionate about it every day since.” Mitchell is assisted by five part-time staff who are also passionate about the mission.
Read To Succeed has at the heart of its mission to reach out within our community in a multifaceted way to improve literacy. Whether that is teaching a 70-year-old man to read the Bible or assisting someone earning their GED. Finding ways to incrementally increase the literacy of Rutherford County citizens is a lofty goal.
Read To Succeed 2016 Executive Board
Mark Sharp, Vice President
Lori J. Williams, CPA
Janie J. Becker
Don Clayton, Secretary
Brian Coleman, President
Anne C. Davis
Brandi Crowell, Treasurer