I love walking in to the Central Newport Beach Public Library.
It reminds me of one of my favorite outings as a little girl: our bi-monthly trip to the library that my Mom would faithfully undertake with my brother and me. With our very own library cards in hand, we were given carte blanche of the children’s section. It was one of the rare opportunities we got to go wild – metaphorically speaking. Completely free of the usual parental controls, the experience gave us a great sense of empowerment and looking back, was fundamental in honing my sense of “the possibilities” and of course a love for the written word.
Lest we illicit a “shoosh!” from the librarian and spoil the fun, my brother and I would put aside our sibling rivalry for an hour and quietly ponder the plethora of books filled with fantasy and adventure, comedy and drama just waiting for our small hands to reach out and pluck them off the shelves. We could chose up to eight books at a time, and we always managed to walk out with a pile up to our chins, grinning from ear-to-ear at our successful expedition.
Looking back, for my Mom, it was a strategic move in terms of getting us to calm down, and quietly sit for a while completely absorbed in our make-believe wonder worlds.
But as a result, like most of us, I grew to hold libraries, books and reading in high esteem. As I grew older, these came to represent not only the sharing of knowledge, but something safe, constant and reliable that began and has continued throughout my life. My fondly remembered experiences resulted in me treasuring words and creativity, the process behind writing and the power of the written word. I suppose it has resulted in me writing this column, which I love to no end.
So when my friend Sue Tucker, who co-founded the Newport-based Literacy Project Foundation (LPF), asked me to get acquainted with two literacy projects here locally, I was intrigued. First she took me on a visit to Project HOPE (Homeless Outreach Program in Education), to experience their “Get Set Read!” program, which supplements school reading programs by providing a fun, socially interactive phonics game that teaches in all three learning modalities: visual, tactile and auditory. LPF also provides a trained “Get Set Read!” administrator at no cost.
As Sue and I drove to a nondescript, half-occupied strip mall in Orange, she told me about LPF’s support of Project HOPE as well as other after-school programs, like Girls Inc., that use LPF’s “Get Set Read!” game.
We talked about the staggering numbers of homeless children in Orange County, estimated by the Orange County Department of Education to be more than 14,000. Because homelessness is just one of the many incomprehensible challenges these children face, they routinely experience gaps in their education, leaving them years behind their peers. To help fill these gaps, the children are picked up each day from their motel or shelter by a bus and brought to Project HOPE to learn.
As we arrived, we were escorted to a small classroom where five children ages 9-11 were playing the “Get Set Read!” game. We could see how the game encouraged the children to concentrate and problem-solve in a gently competitive and positive way. I was impressed at their enthusiasm, and it was clear they are smart kids that just need extra support.
Towards the end of our visit, the teacher told us that each student had filled out the “Get Set Read! Dream Card” telling what they want to be when they grow up. We went around the room, and each child read what he or she had written: one to be a music teacher; another an artist; the next a paleontologist; on to a lawyer; and finally a sheriff (or football player, whichever came first).
Some of these kids didn’t even know where they would be sleeping that night.
Girls, Inc. is also now implementing the “Get Set Read!:” program, thanks to the efforts of local father/son team Mike Manclark and dad Dr. Bill, who many of you may know from his days as a veterinarian and owner of Corona del Mar Animal Hospital. Mike’s company, Leading Edge Corp., has graciously underwritten a 10-week program for 12 girls at Girls Inc. in Costa Mesa, a nonprofit after-school program that offers age-appropriate, research-based programs that assist girls in gaining the education and personal confidence necessary to reach their highest potential.
“In our busy lives, we often forget about kids that don’t have the same chance to succeed that we were fortunate enough to experience growing up. My father and I are more than pleased to join this fight against illiteracy and help these kids reach for the stars,” says Mike, who plans to visit Girls, Inc. and witness firsthand how the program is affecting their lives.
As Sue dropped me off the day of our visit to Project Hope, I thanked her for the opportunity to experience the difference the Literacy Project Foundation is making in the lives of the children it serves. It was good to learn that despite this tough economy, helping kids beat the odds against illiteracy is a fight that must continue, one we should all join.
I can’t stop thinking about those children I met that day, their sincere longing to learn and have a chance at becoming something in life, that little fire in their eyes, and their own desire – not dissimilar to my own back in the library so many years ago, to grasp “the possibilities.”
To learn how you can sponsor a school site and give kids the gift of literacy, call LPF at 949-721-1319 or log on to www.literacyprojectfoundation.org.
Residing in Newport Beach, Lynn Selich is a weekly columnist with the NB Indy, associate publisher of Newport Beach Magazine and society editor for both publications. She can be reached at [email protected].