Rowan Childs founded Madison Reading Project in 2013 to provide engaging reading materials to all children in the Madison area. “I was inspired to start Madison Reading Project in the course of working with my own children to develop a love of reading,” says Childs. “I had the resources to purchase books that interested them, as well as easy access to the internet and transportation to the library. I realized quickly that not all families have those resources at their fingertips.”
Here, Childs discusses the nonprofit’s mission, goals for 2021 (including opening a new, larger book center) and how the pandemic has evolved the community’s reading needs.
What is the mission of Madison Reading Project?
Our mission is to deliver high-quality, literacy learning, reinforcement programs to underserved children by engaging them in differentiated literacy activities designed to create not only a love of learning but build and reinforce age-appropriate skills needed to develop the young reader.
What role does reading/books play in the life of a young person?
Having a home filled with high-quality, engaging books sets children up for success in school and life. Children who have printed material in their homes show more school-readiness at preschool. During the pandemic when school buildings were closed, access to books became not only a source of learning materials but also a way to take children off of screens.
What is the greatest reward in being involved with Madison Reading Project? What about the biggest challenge?
Watching our organization grow from a $1,000 grant and an afterschool program in the Salvation Army to 2020 when we were able to provide over 70,000 books during the pandemic has been incredibly rewarding. I believe that with every bookshelf we fill, we are impacting a family and bringing literacy joy to children.
Are the needs of the nonprofit different now than what they were when it was founded in 2013?
Since 2013, we have been continually adapting our offerings to the changing needs of the community. The connecting thread through all of these changes, though, has been a constant need for high-quality books that will inspire children to read.
As we grow, we are more able to purchase or procure more quality book donations or new books. This has enabled us to focus our purchases on books with diverse characters that reflect the children we serve. Combined with the incredibly generous support of community donations of like-new books, from their homes, we are able to provide increasingly larger numbers of books each year.
How have the needs of Madison Reading Project evolved during the pandemic?
Because we were unable to accept donated books during the first several months of the pandemic, we began purchasing thousands of new books to fill the need. We also evolved our delivery practices to be contactless. In 2019, we rolled out our Big Red Reading Bus to make our services mobile and bring our books directly to the children we serve at partner organizations and community events. But when many of our schools and partners were forced to close their doors, we were able to use the bus to make home deliveries.
What are your goals for 2021?
Our goal for 2021 is to provide over 70,000 books. We are confident that we will be able to fill the need for high-quality books in classrooms and home libraries in our community. Our programming staff is focused on providing at least 10,000 books each through our summer reading events, books for educators program, Little Free Library deliveries and holiday season giving events as well as through giving events to our regular partners.
We are moving into a larger book center on the south side of Madison that will allow us to open our doors to more partners, process increasing numbers of books and invite community members, volunteers and other nonprofits to collaborate. We are continually working on our outreach to find new partners that will help us put books into the hands of all children who need them.
How can FabWI readers help?
We are currently fundraising for our new book center, to help us outfit the space with more sorting tables, shelving, office technology and staff work areas. If you work for an area business that would like to support our mission, please contact our staff for more information about sponsoring our space. Packages include recognition on our Big Red Reading Bus, on our donor wall and our grand opening materials.
As we move into our new, larger book center, we are also excited to partner with community and service groups for book drives, fundraising and volunteer opportunities. If you are a member of a group that would like to be involved, please reach out to Madison Reading Project staff.