Daily Hampshire Gazette
Page by page, an Amherst nonprofit continues to fight educational inequality by shipping free books to disadvantaged communities.
But there is more to Reader to Reader than tons of paper. This novel program, founded by David Mazor more than a decade ago, exports hope.
Yes, hope, that thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson once ventured. “That perches in the soul - / And sings the tune without the words - / And never stops - at all -”
While best known for its book donations, Reader to Reader works to advance literacy – and the economic hope literacy ignites – in impoverished communities beyond this country’s borders.
Mazor’s program also serves as a lifeline to intrepid students from the Five Colleges inspired to design and launch their own global literacy projects.
Books remain the coin of the realm. Starting late last month, Reader to Reader made its latest book donation to schools in Native American communities in the Southwest — one of its oldest efforts.
Schools in New Mexico and Arizona are receiving more than 52,000 books worth half a million dollars. The program’s simple goal is to get books into the hands of children in underfunded schools, believing that reading lights fires of curiosity that, once kindled, cannot be extinguished.
As Reader to Reader has grown, new corporate relationships enable it to get many more books into schools like the Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools in Gallup, New Mexico, and the Central Consolidated Schools in Shiprock, New Mexico. Both are receiving books in the latest shipment, along with the Ganado Unified School District in Ganado, Arizona, the Hopi School District in Keams Canyon, Arizona, and the Tuba City Unified School District in Tuba City, Arizona.
The program crossed the 50,000-volume mark on this donation thanks in part to its ties to the Scholastic Corp., Pioneer Valley Press, Soho Press and other publishers.
A library staffer in the Gallup-McKinley schools, which are getting 14,000 books, says the program’s impact on students will be “profound.”
Separately, more than 21,000 volumes are headed to the Navajo Nation Library in Window Rock, Arizona. Reader to Reader is also shipping books to a Native American community that’s been in the news – the Standing Rock Reservation, whose members are fighting a pipeline project and reached out to the Amherst program for help to improve the library at a South Dakota campus of Sitting Bull College.
Not surprisingly, there’s been mission creep in the Reader to Reader ranks for years. Students from local colleges continue to serve as tutors and reading mentors. Many do that here in the Valley, as several did with the Summer of Power program for five weeks this year in Holyoke by helping students improve their English language skills. The program says 200 Five Colleges students, working in Massachusetts and New Mexico, are mentoring 1,400 low-income young readers.
Further afield, Reader to Reader continues to assist efforts, sometimes through its Springboard Program, to advance literacy in places like Managua, Nicaragua, Arani, Bolivia, and Santa Cruz, Costa Rica. The Springboard Program helps college students do global good.
They include the four students from Amherst College who’ve been improving a three-room public library in the village of Santa Cruz.
Reader to Reader does seem like “the thing that never stops,” as Dickinson wrote.
In that same poem, she said of hope: “I’ve heard it in the chillest land - / And on the strangest Sea - / Yet - never - in Extremity, / It asked a crumb - of me.”
For information on how to support Reader to Reader’s efforts, and perhaps provide some financial crumbs, visit readertoreader.org.