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Our Kids Read Monthly Newsletter DECEMBER 2023

Letter from the Executive Director

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Our last newsletter of 2023! We are thrilled to announce a number of exciting developments: we formed a partnership with the Portland Boys and Girls Club to conduct a Reading Buddies pilot in the Spring of 2024, we were a grant recipient three times over this month and we are finalizing plans to expand our work into California in March of 2024.

Looking ahead into 2024, we have a laser focus on infrastructure and capacity development. 80% of our time and energy will be spend on grant writing, onboarding a full-time staff member, growing the OKR Reading Buddies program and expanding our high school and college internship programs. The remaining 20% of our efforts will be invested in Free Book Festivals and Read-a-Thons across the country.

We are excited to continue to collaborate with you all in 2024 to magnify our impact and reach twice as many students as we did in 2023. Peace and blessings and the happiest of holidays!

Warmest Regards,

Jahmal Lake

Executive Director, Our Kids Read

FEATURED STORIES:

EVENT: OKR SPOTLIGHTS IBI ZABOI IN NYC HOLIDAY LITERACY CELEBRATION

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Families living at the WIN shelter in Harlem, NY received over 300 books during this event. Simi and Fitz did an amazing job of storytelling and West African drumming, keeping the young folks enthralled and adults equally entertained. [read more]

Event: Free Book Festival: Twin

PETRUCCI FAMILY FOUNDATION RENEWS SUPPORT FOR A 3RD YEAR

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Jerome Bettis’ The Bus Stops Here Foundation invited OKR back to Pittsburgh, PA for a second straight year to participate in their annual holiday gift giveaway at Twin Rivers Elementary. OKR brought over 300 books and gave all of them away during over the course of the 1-hour celebration. [read more]

Save the Dates

We welcome vounteers at our Free Book Festivals. To protect that safety of the students in our partner schools, there is a criminal background screensing and volunteer training procss.

SAVE THE DATE if you would like to volunteer at any of the events below! Click the link next to the event to register to volunteer.

March 1st 2024

Free Book Festival @ Glenmount Elementary School Baltimore, MD

March 8th, 2024

Free Book Festival @ Mosser Elementary School Allentown, PA

March 18th, 2024

Free Book Festival @ Amber Charter School Harlem, NY

March 22nd, 2024

Free Book Festival @ WLCAC Watts, CA

May 23rd, 2024

Princeton University Reunions Literacy Event Princeton, NJ

okr updates in 60 seconds

Free Book Festivals

  • WIN Shelter, Harlem, NY, Friday, December 15th, 2023
  • Twin Rivers Elementary School, Pittsburgh, PA, Saturday, December 16th, 2023
  • Harlem Holiday Literacy Extravaganza, Ibi Zaboi Feature, Thursday, December 21st, 2023

Partnerships

  • Kicking off a Reading Buddies pilot wih the Portland, Oregon Boys and Girls Club in February 2024
  • Hidden Valley Elementary School, Charlotte, NC, 2nd year of Reading Buddies, expanding to focus to include 2nd graders
  • Continuing our partnerships with the CAEC in Columbus, OH and Storefront Academy in NY, NY for Reading Buddies origramming in 2024
  • New schools Glenmount Elementary in Baltimore, MD and Mosser Elementary School in Allentown PA join the OKR school network along with WLCAC in Watts, CA`

Grants and Awards

  • R Karalakulasingam Family Foundation grant to expand the OKR Rading Buddies Program
  • Myers Park United Methodist Church Grant to Support OKR’s Reading Buddies Program in Charlotte, NC
  • A Jackson Neighbor Foundation Unrestricted Programming Grant
  • Lehigh Valley Health Network Microgrant to Support a March 2024 Free Book Festival
  • N Williams Microgrant to Supprt the OKR Reading Buddies Program in Charlotte, NC

Staffing / Organization Updates

  • December kick-off of December 2023/January 2024 OKR participation in Princeton intern (Princeternship) program
  • Four additions to the OKR Advisory Board: Kevin Hudson, Beth Brett, Antonia Baker and Lauren MacDonell
  • Wrap-up of Princeton chapter of Rem & Co pro bono organizational development consulting project (Kristy Gonzalez ‘25, Joseph Suharno ‘26, Hazel Gupta, Daniel Kim, Russel Fan)

Corporate Partners and Sponsors

  • NFL Black Employee Network and OKR to execute a Free Book Festival on March 18th, 2024
  • Verizon SOMOS partners with OKR on December 15th Free Book Festival at WIN Shelter, Harlem, NY
  • The Bus Stops Here Foundation partnered with OKR for a Free Book Festival on Saturday, December 16th, 2023
  • Morgan Stanley Baltimore Offices and Our Kids Read Collaborate to Bring a Free Book Festival to Glenmount Elementary School in Baltimore City on March 1st 2024
  • N Williams, for the second year in a row, sponsors OKR Reading Buddy Program in Charlotte NC, thanks to the nomination of OKR by Princeton grad Olivia Drony ‘00
  • Myers Park United Methodist Church extends support for the OKR Rading Buddies program in Charlotte for a second year
  • Lehigh Valley Health Network supports a Free Book Festival in Allentown, PA with volunteers and a microgrant

FEATURED ARTICLES

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A Look Back: Ragnarok Technologies Unflagging Support of OKR Programming

Ragnarok Technologie, based in Reston, VA, has been a consistent OKR supporter beginning in 2022 and continuing into 2023. The most recent Ragnarok sponsored and volunteer-supported event at Guildford Elementary School in Sterling VA resulted in 350 booksgoing home with the 1st and 2nd grade students at the school. [read more]

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OKR Kicks off Partnership with Princeton Internship (Princeternship) Program

Princeton University accepted Our Kids Read into their Princeternship program this year! Three students will be joining Our Kids Read for the next 6 weeks as interns, Jerry Atunku ’27, Jules Regan ’25 and Alena Zhang, ‘27.

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High School and Middle School Students Find a Connection with the OKR Mission

Special thanks to Jace Brett ’28 and Francesca Lamattina ’26 for their support of the Our Kids Read Reading Buddies program.

Rem & Co. Brings Fresh New Perspectives from Princeton’s Campus

partners and donors

As we approach the end of 2023, a special thanks to the following corporate and foundation partners and sponsors:

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Petrucci Family Foudation

The Petrucci Foundation was our first donor when we kicked off our programming in 2022. Since then, their annual support has enabled OKR to launch over 16 Free Book Festivals and bring the joy of reading diverse books to over 200 students. The PFF mission, to support education and create opportunities for Americans at every stage and station of life, is directly aligned with OKR’s mission and vision, making them the perfect partner for Our Kids Read. [read more]

Q&A with PFF Executive Director, Jim Petrucci:

The Petrucci Family Foundation (PFF) has as it’s mission “to support education and create opportunities for Americans at every stage and station of life.”   In your view, how does the PFF mission align with the Our Kids Read mission to “connect children and communities to diverse books and reading programs in order to foster literacy, achievement and a positive self-view?

You are creating opportunities and so are we.  Finding needs to fill is a worthy endeavor in general – and working with children in underserved communities is critically important.

As one of Our Kids Read first donors, what has ben your perception of the organization’s progress over the past 2 years?  What do you feel has done well, what do you look forward to in the future for OKR?

I think you’ve done everything exceptionally well, and I hope you focus on steady (not explosive) growth.  Create a sustainable path…

What were your own experiences with books and literacy as a child/young adult?  Did reading play a big role in your life growing up?

I always had my nose in a book!

I understand you have mentored students yourself in the past, what programs have you been involved with and what drew you to that kind of work?

Too many to mention, but one that we are excited about is a partnership with the African American Chamber of Commerce of NJ – we underwrite a Leadership Program for high school juniors in Irvington NJ.  In general I find that there is tremendous positive energy surrounding young people with ambition – it fuels me.

If you had to tell a young person why it is important to learn to love to read, what would you tell them is the value of literacy? Making it simple I’d get them started with something of interest and make it fun!

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Microsoft

Microsoft employees have donated over 300 hours of their time reading with K-5th Grade Students. This translated int over $7,500 in cash for the organization since 2022 as Microsoft donates $25 to a non-profit for every hour their employee donates their time. In addition, four Microsoft employees have volunteered to assist in the technical aspects of the development of our "NextGen" on-line reading portal! Microsoft has accepted OKR into their Non-Profit Tech Acceleration (NTA) program for Black and African American Communities Program, granting hundreds of free Office 365 licenses to OKR staff and volunteers. Finally, OKR is the recipient of a $3,500 Microsoft Azure Grant which covers a significant portion of our technology/web hosting cost. Thank you Microsoft and Microsoft staff! [read more]

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Nike

OKR and Nike partnered to execute two Read-a-Thons in 2023, one in April and one in June (for Nike’s celebration of the Junetenth holiday), In addition, Nike and OKR joined forces in September of 2023 to execute a Free Book Festival at Nike Global HQ in Beaverton, OR. Students from a local Portland elementary school came to Beaverton for a day of storytelling, West African drumming and, of course FRE BOOKS! Click here for a video of the event.

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Princeton University (Classes of 1998 and 1979)

The Our Kids Read Princeton Reunions 25th Reunion service event was one for the ages! 50 students from Trenton’s Foundation Academies join the Princeton University Class of 1998 during their 25th reunion for a day that featured a campus tour, free books, celebrity guests, lunch and storytelling and West African drumming.

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NFL Black Employees Network (BEN)

OKR and the NFL are in the planning stages of a Free Book Festival to be held at the Amber Charter School in Harlem NY in March 2024. The event will feature the standard storytelling, free books and West African drumming and students will be offered a chance to enroll in the evening Readng Buddies program (students read one-on-one with a reading mentor over Zoom). This will be Our Kids Read’s second event at the Amber Charter School In March 2023, thanks to a generous gift from the NY Public Library, OKR was able to bring a literacy festival to the school with over 600 books donated to the Amber Charter 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes.

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Home Depot Donates 8’ Tables and Makes a Donation to Support a Book Festival at Mount Washington Elementary School, Baltimore, MD

Mount Washington Elementary School welcomed our Baltimore storytelling partner/griot Janice Curtis Greene and West African drummer extraordinaire “Mama Dot”. The 1st and 2nd grade classes all received three free books and enjoyed an afternoon of storytelling and drumming. Special thanks to Principal Sara Long and sponsors Jernee and David Bramble and Home Depot. Listen to the interview with Home Depot’s Metacha Abel and her sister Bridget Abel of Microsoft: https://vimeo.com/879305140.

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Ragnarok Technologies Brings Diverse Books and Storytelling to Low-Income VA Students

Ragnarok Technologies Brings Diverse Books and Storytelling to Low-Income VA Students Ranarok Technologies has been a long-time supporter of OKR Free Book Festivals, beginning in 2022. In March of 2023, Lois Pastor, Chris Santiago, Nora Young, Renee Jordon, Tara Reed and April Blake volunteered to deliver over 300 books to 1st and 2nd graders at Guilford Elementary School in Sterling, VA. As Guildford Elementary School has a large Hispanic population, OKR brought bi-lingual Mexican storyteller and musician Marilyn Castillo to tell stories and sing songs in English and Spanish. [read more]

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Lehigh Valley Health Network Donates $250 to Support Literacy Efforts in Allentown, VA

Our Kids Read is working closely with the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LHVN) to coordinate LHVN volunteer efforts and logistics planning in support of the March 2024 planned event at Mosser Elementary School.

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Penguin Random House Shows Strong Support of Diverse Author Visits and OKR Literacy Events in 2023

Penuin Random House has supported four (4) Our Kids Read events in 2023: books for Trenton 4th graders at this year’s Princeton Reunions 25th Service Event, copies of Nic Stone’s Clean Getaway and Fast Pitch in support of OKR’s Diverse Author Visit at Atlanta’s SLAM School and donation of books in support ofour NY and Portland Free Book Festivals.

PRH’s strong commitment to putting diverse childrens books in the handls of those who need it most is evidenced by their continued support of OKR’s programming in underserved communities. We look forward to growing the relationship in 2024.

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St Albans School Makes $2,500 Material Donation of a DTEN-D7 55" All-In-One Interactive Whiteboard Display

St. Albans School selected Our Kids Read as one of the local Washinton, D.C/VA/MD non-profits to receive an All-in-One DTEN D7 (https://www.dten.com/products/dten-d7/) Zoom conferencing monitors. Designed for Zoom Rooms, it combines video conferencing, digital whiteboarding, and content sharing into a single device.

Our Kids Read plans to use the monitor and stand both for classroom and internal conferences.

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Kingswood Oxford (West Hartford, CT) Joins OKR in High School Student Reading Budy Pilot

2023 saw the first high school student Reading Buddies! Thanks to introductions by OKR Advisory Board Member, Beth Brett, Kinswood Oxford submitted a number of high school honors students as potential Reading Buddies. Three students are currently readin with children in the OKR Reading Buddies Program.

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NYPL Donates Over 37,000 Books to Support OKR’s Low-Income Literacy Programming in NYC

OKR conducted over 60 Free Book Festivals in NYC between 2022 and 2023, largely thanks to a generous donation from the NY Public Library. Concentrating programming in Manhattan and the Bronx, OKR was able to both encourage young people to become familiar with their local library AND gave each student who attended an OKR event 3 free books.

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Scholastic Possible Fund Donates Bilingual Books to Support OKR Free Book Festivals

Thanks to the Scholastic Possible Fund, Our Kids Read will be able to add 200 English Spanish versions of Mambo King / Rey del Mambo, My Name is Celia / Me llamo Celia, and Green Is a Chile Pepper / El chile es verde.

OKR looks forward to conversations with Scholastic in 2024 to explore other opportunities to manify the impact of both OKR and the Possible Fund.

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OKR Joins the Diverse Books for All Coalition for Bulk Purchasing Power

In November of 2023, OKR joined the national Diverse Books for All Coalition (Home - Full (diversebooksforall.org)), sponsored by First Book.

The Diverse Books for All Coalition is a national consortium of nonprofits and membership organizations working together to increase access to affordable, high quality children’s books by and about diverse races, cultures, identities, and abilities. The coalition places bulk book orders to bring down the cost for each participating organization.

OKR looks forward to leveraging the power of bulk purchases to manify the impact of the dollars donated to the organization.

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Arch Capital Sponsors a Bronx Public Prep Free Book Festival

What an amazing event at Bronx Public Prep! And special thanks to Arch Capital Insurance for their sponsorship of the event. Over 2,000 books were donated to the school and, as with all Free Book Festivals, students participated in interactive rumming and storytelling.

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Easy AD Harris of the Legendary Cold Crush Brothers and the Universal Hip Hop Museum Sponsor a Free Book Festival

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Verizon SOMOS Partners with Our Kids Read for a Pop-up Free Book Festival in Thomas Jefferson Park, Amber Charter School and WIN Shelter

Our most consistent volunteer partner by far, the Verizon SOMOS team have been stalwart supporters of the Our Kids Read Free Book Festival programming. See video “Thank you!” to SOMOS here.

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WIN Shelters in Brooklyn and Harlem tapped as Locations for OKR Free Book Festivals, OKR Makes donate of 600 Book to Support WIN Libraries

OKR understands that some of the most vulnerable and needy American citizens are those who are housing insecure/homeless. When a partnership with WIN NYC shelters was proposed it was an easy “yes!” for us. Free Book Festivals in Brooklyn (East New York) and Harlem brought an evening of joy and free books to residents, both old and young.

In addition, OKR donated 600 books ($6,000 value) to WIN (OKR was the recipient of a generous gift from a partner non-profit) in November 2023.

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Baltimore Community Foundation awards $15,000 Book Grant to OKR to Support Baltimore Book Festivals

The Baltimore Community Foundation, recognizing the importance of putting diverse books in the hands of Baltimore’s young people, awarded a $15K book grant to OKR.

OKR will be holding a Free Book Festival at Glenmount Elementary School in Baltimore in March 2024 leveraging this grant and volunteers from the Moran Stanley Baltimore offices.

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OKR’s First Ever Grant Came from the Nora Roberts Foundation in Support of Free Book Festivals Around the Country

The Nora Roberts Foundation mission statement reads: “As we believe literacy is a human right, we have made supporting literacy organizations our highest priority. In order to create a beautiful, equitable, and safe world, we also support organizations focused on the arts, children, social justice, and the environment.”

The perfect partner for Our Kids Read! OKR plans to continue to build a relationship with this foundation after our first award.

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Orijin Bees Donates Dolls in Support of the OKR 2023 Princeton Reunions Youth Literacy Service Event

Special thanks to Orijin Bees founder Melissa Oriin who donated 40 Black and brown dolls for the participants of the 2023 Princeton Reunions Youth Literacy Service Event.

Having goodie bags and giveaways at our Free Book Festivals adds a level of excitement for the young scholars who participate. This “value add” did not go unnoticed by the Foundation Academies staff who brought the students to Princeton’s campus. They expressed extreme gratitude for the Origin Bees donation. Thanks Melissa!

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Afro Unicorn Brand Offers Partnership and Books to OKR Youth Literacy Events

Our Kids Read was happy to be on the periphery of the explosion of the Afro Unicorn brand in 2023. To steal a line from the AfroUnicorns.com website, “the brand has skyrocketed onto the scene with 25 categories, from apparel and accessories to toys, puzzles, books, bedding, bandages, backpacks, collectibles, and more to inspire and remind women and children of color how unique, divine and magical we truly are.”

April Showers, the founder, has donated hundreds of books to OKR programs and partnered with OKR to bring Cassidy Bridges, 6-year-old author of “Thank You! It’s an Afro” to the Princeton Reunions-OKR Youth Literacy service event. Special thanks to April Showers and Askia Fountain for their support.

OKR looks forward to strengthening the OKR-Afro Unicorn partnership in 2024.

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Salesforce Awards 10 Free Licenses to Our Kids Read

The Power of Us Program provides discounted Salesforce technology to education institutions and nonprofit organizations looking to get started with the world’s #1 CRM platform.

Our Kids Read received a Power of Us grant in 2023 and is in the process of configuring Salesforce to automate selected internal processes.

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Monday.com Awards $3,000 in Monday.com licenses to Our Kids Read

Our Kids Read applied for and was accepted into monday.com's Nonprofit Program in 2023. This meant that OKR received its 10 first seats (licenses) for free.

To be eligible to participate in the monday.com for Nonprofit Program, you must be recognized as a charity, nonprofit, nongovernmental, or social change organization in the country in which you are located.

ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

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Our Kids Read Princeton University Internship (Princeternship) Students

Three incredibly talented Princeton undergraduate students stepped up this month to participate in the 2024 OKR Princeternship experience. Jerry Atunku ’27, Jules Regan ’25 and Alena Zhang ’27. Each student will be working on three projects, ranging from coordinating a Free Book Festival in South Tom’s River, NJ (Jules Regan) to working on Our Kids Read’s Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation grant (Alena Zhang) to strengthening our relationship with our Scholastic and Penguin Random House publisher-partners (Jerry Atunku).

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Jerry Atunku ‘27

Freshman, Princeton University, Economics

“As I approach the latter years of my undergraduate studies, my career interests are steering towards either pursuing law school or an MBA, with an aspiration to delve into public service, particularly within government sectors. The reason I am keen on the Our Kids Read Princeternship experience is because the mission of promoting literacy resonates with me personally. I firmly believe that education stands as the paramount issue of our era, and I am eager to contribute meaningfully to its advancement.”

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Jules Regan ‘25

Junior, Princeton University, Psychology

My name is Jules Regan, and I'm a current junior in the psychology department pursuing a certificate in teacher preparation. At Princeton, I am a research assistant at Princeton Baby Lab, where I am also conducting my independent work about targeting low-income elementary school students' math motivation. I am also a residential college advisor, president and founder of Princeton Psychology Society, a member of the psychology department's diversity, equity and inclusion committee, and president of Academic Success Today, a service club matching Princeton students to at-risk middle school students for weekly 1:1 mentoring. Based on my own experiences as a first-generation high school graduate and low-income student, I became very interested in understanding my educational experiences as well as what factors allowed me to ultimately flourish and find myself at a place like Princeton. Once here, my coursework and internships led me to understand my passion in a more formal way; I am now interested in pursuing work at the intersection of service, nonprofit work, and research to target at-risk students like myself and best understand how to help them succeed. I love the mission of OKR because it understands the power of igniting passion in young children, ultimately giving them the resources and confidence to create a new trajectory for them, and this is what I want to be part of.

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Alena Zhang, ‘27

Freshman, Princeton University, Economics

Alena Zhang, a prospective Economics major at Princeton University, is passionate about promoting children's literacy. As a published children's book author, she has helped organize book drives donating 10,000+ books and co-founded a Writing club creating 28 books. Her dedication seamlessly aligns with Our Kids Read's mission, and she is thrilled to leverage her enthusiasm for both business and literacy to further OKR's initiatives.

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT

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Rem & Co Princeton Donates Hundreds of Volunteer Hours to OKR 2023/2024 Projects

Our Kids Read connected with Rem & Co this year, an organization dedicated to providing volunteer support to small US-based businesses. Joseph Suharno '25 is working on strategies to integrate external content and literacy tools into OKR's reading portal, Hazel Gupta & Daniel Kim '26 are working to automate select manual OKR processes, Russel Fan '26 is working on a donor outreach and volunteer mobilization strategy and Kristy Gonzalez '25 is developin a social media optimization strategy for OKR.

READING BUDDIES PROGRAM

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R Karalakulasingam Family Foundation grant to Expand the 2024 Reading Buddies Program

The R Karalakulasingam Family Foundation has as its mission “to support programs that promote the health and education of underserved populations and end the injustice of poverty.”. OKR received news this month that the R Karalakulasingam Family Foundation selected OKR for a $2,500 grant to support the expansion of the Reading Buddies program. OKR and the R Karalakulasingam Family Foundation both understand that there is a tight link between low-lieracy levels and poverty. Being born poor often means one will attend a school with lower levels of funding, creating a learning environment that is not as strong as their middle or upper-class peers. Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty, and 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings, and between higher educational scores and higher earnings. We're excited that the R Karalakulasingam Family Foundation and OKR see eye to eye on this matter and look forward to developing a long-term relatiomship with this organization.

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Myers Park United Mehodist Church (MPUMC) / The Giles Foundation Grant to Expand the Charlote, NC Rading Buddies program

For the second straight year the Myers Pak United Methodist Church included OKR’s Hidden Valley Elementary Reading Buddies Program in their Giles Foundation Grant. Funds from this grant will be used to increase the hours of the part time staff who support the Reading Buddies program in Charlotte and to purchase laptops for students in Charlotte who wish to participate in the Reading Buddies program but don’t have a reliable computer with which to do so.

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February 2024 Kick-off of the Reading Buddies Pilot with Portland Boys and Girls Club

OKR looks forward to the kick-off of a pilot Reading Buddies program in Portland, OR. The pilot will feature two, 45-minute reading sessions per week with forty (40) K-5tth graders. OKR is looking for a few more West Coast-based volunteers to read with our students in this pilot. Click here to express interest in volunteering.

SUPPORT OUR KIDS READ

Five (5) ways to support Our Kids Read:

www.ourkidsreadinc.org