Each month, Read for a Cause recognizes a deserving Literacy Champion: someone who shares their passion for literacy with others and makes this world a better place. No matter their profession or title, these individuals embody Read for a Cause's mission of reading more and doing good.
We are proud to honor you!
Name: Ashequka Lacey
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Title: Owner of Inspiring Jreams Publishing; Author of Jakobi and Me and The Little Girl with the Big Name
Ashequka Lacey is an author, publisher, entrepreneur, coach, mother, and advocate. After her son was born with a rare, life-altering disease, Ashequka decided to publish a children’s book to promote awareness and inspire acceptance, kindness, and faith And what’s more, Ashequka works tirelessly to use her experiences to help others tell their stories and follow their dreams.
“My publishing company, Inspiring Jreams, is all about helping authors and aspiring authors with their publishing journey. Coaching others brings me pure joy. I started coaching because I remember what it was like for me when I first started my journey. So many times we don't know where to start. My goal is to empower, educate and support women who've been through various life challenges and circumstances to tell their story. I’m here to make that dream of writing a book into a reality.”
Name: Tamara Solt
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Role / Title: Author and Entrepreneur
After seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Tamara Solt learned from a young age how to face fears, set hard goals, and live a life of gratitude. After retiring from the federal government, she wanted to inspire others to embrace commitment, courage, and honor as guiding lights on their own journeys of personal growth and success. And so began her journey to becoming a published author.
“Whether you're navigating a divorce and becoming a single parent, a career transition, empty nest syndrome, or any other significant change, I understand that starting over or being unsure of your true path in life can be daunting. I've been there. But regardless of your circumstances, living the life you truly desire is within reach. As I reflected on my life's journey and the challenges I faced, I recognized the profound influence of three core values that were instilled in me during my seven-year enlistment in the US Marines: commitment, courage, and honor. I believe that by embodying these values, individuals can unlock their full potential, overcome any obstacles they encounter, and create lives of purpose, resilience, and fulfillment.”
Name: Rochelle Ann
Hometown: Lima, Ohio
Title/Role: Homecare Private Duty Nurse with Nationwide Children's Hospital and Steward of Little Free Library #131701
Throughout her life, Rochelle has always believed in the power of education. During her time with the Air Force, Rochelle earned her Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering and has continued to earn multiple other degrees in legal assisting, business, and healthcare. It should therefore come as no surprise that fostering a love for literacy and education is a passion of Rochelle’s.
“I have enjoyed reading for as long as I can remember, and it has been one of my favorite lifelong hobbies. Having access to a variety of books is so important to learning about the community and the world around us, and a Little Free Library provides the means to facilitate that goal. Serving as the steward for a library next to one of our local elementary schools allows me to promote and encourage reading for families, especially among younger readers. As long as we can make a small bit of positive difference for one individual, then the time, energy, and resources are worth it.”
Name: Danielle Marietta
Hometown: Puyallup, Washington
Title/Role: Mom, Wife, Author, and Publisher
Danielle Marietta has her sights on one goal: tightening the demographic gap in children's literacy for the benefit of every child. From self publishing 3 children’s books, to starting a publishing company to coaching others who find themselves on similar paths, Danielle uses her platform to share diverse stories, spread awareness of other indie authors, and inspire others to join in her mission.
“I write to make sure my children, and all kids, see equal representation in books. Children want to learn. They want to experience new things and the magic of make believe is alive and well. Books are so much more than words on a page. They teach children empathy, build awareness and nourish their creativity. Kids are like sponges and when there is a lack of diversity in children's books, how will they tap into all these amazing wonders? I hope to tighten the demographic gap in children's literacy for the benefit of every child in hopes of a brighter future.”
Name: Misty Perry-Pifer
Hometown: Zanesville, Ohio
Occupation: Head Start Supervisor & I See Me Project Coordinator
Whether volunteering with Kiwanis, stocking up her neighborhood Little Library, working as a Head Start Home Base Supervisor to help children prepare for school, or leading her I See Me Project initiative, Misty works tirelessly as an educator, an ally, and a difference-maker in the lives of all she serves.
“Reading opens doors in so many ways: it creates possibilities. And every child deserves to see themselves reflected in the books that they read. This is what inspired me to start The I See Me Project: a family book club for Head Start families focused on celebrating diversity and inclusion. This family book club offers opportunities for families to see their culture reflected and read stories that sound similar to their own. Some of my favorite moments are when I see a child connect with a character in a book. Once that connection is made, they are hooked on reading. And because this is happening with their family, the impact multiplies.”
Name: Jill Linville
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Title: Speech Language Pathologist
Jill Linville has spent her entire career helping others find their voice--literally and figuratively. For the past 30 years, Jill has worked as a speech language pathologist, serving everyone from infants and adults to everyone in between. Jill currently works in the school setting, serving over 50 K-12 students throughout the academic year. Jill has found that incorporating books and other literary resources into her therapy sessions often leads to major communication breakthroughs with her students.
“Literacy and effective communication are essential for students of all ages to access the curriculum in the school environment. I use books with all ages targeting many different goals such as retelling stories, syntax, articulation carry over, auditory processing, answering 'wh' and inference questions, social skills, friendship building, vocabulary skills, and figurative language. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to remember that everyone can make a difference no matter what age… and that the little day to day acts really can make a big difference.”
Name: Alan St. Jean
Role: Founder of The Young Authors Foundation, Children’s Author, Speaker
Hometown: Galena, Ohio
Nominator: Kristin Schultz
Following a twenty year career in business, Galena, Ohio resident Alan St. Jean decided to pursue his passion for writing books and composing music. But his choice was about more than just following his own heart: it was about inspiring as many other teachers, parents, authors, and artists to join him in his mission to reignite a love for literacy among today’s youth.
“Research shows that a child who connects on an emotional level to a book between the ages of 6-11 is changed in positive and significant ways that can affect them for the rest of their life. But kids are reading less and less, at an alarming level. We can't get rid of video games, so we need to compete with them. The Young Authors Foundation is committed to raising the bar when it comes to children's books. Our resolve is to get their attention, get them to read, and teach them to write. By lighting a spark, the Foundation hopes to encourage other authors and illustrators to do the same: to do better, to be better and hopefully to make this world a little better because of it.”
Organization: Stockhands Horses for Healing
Location: Delaware, Ohio
Program: Read with the Horses
After witnessing the instant calming effect their horses had on children with autism, Tim and Lisa Funk decided to expand their reach and their mission to help as many people as they could. In 2014, they founded Stockhands Horses for Healing in an effort to share the peace, healing, and magic of their horses to those who needed it most. Over the years, Stockhands has provided equine facilitated activities to veterans, adults, and children with developmental, mental, physical, and emotional disabilities and challenges. And in 2019, Stockhands launched its “Read with the Horses” program, wherein children can visit the barn to read to the horses the second Saturday of every month. Program founder and volunteer Michelle Lowe explained the magic it creates:
“It is absolutely amazing watching students who are typically hesitant to read aloud with expression reading to the horses in the silliest voices, students who are resistant to sharing their writing spending two hours reading stories they had written, students whose confidence starts growing right before our eyes, all while the horses attentively listen to the students, providing a judgement-free zone for them to explore their love of reading.”
Name: Laurie Patterson
Title: Berne Union Elementary Librarian
Hometown: Ormond Beach, Florida
Nominator: Cindy Saunders
Laurie Patterson has served as Berne Union Elementary School’s Librarian for the past six years, a role she calls her “dream job.” Motivated by the belief that reading forms the backbone of education, Laurie’s passion lies in helping others and inspiring children to learn to love books as well as their unique personalities and interests.
“Teaching children reading changes their view of their world and the people around them. My job as a librarian is to try to identify a book that they will enjoy reading. I have readers at all skill levels and it can be a challenge to find ‘the book,’ but when it happens it is like an amazing transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly! I am motivated to keep shining the light of possibilities into each of the children I come in contact with. I see each of their uniqueness that has been gifted to them and try to show them that they are loved, seen, and heard.”
Name: The Human Library Organization
Hometown: Copenhagen, Denmark
For the past 22 years, the Human Library Organization hosts events, readings, and discussions utilizing “human books” in more than 80 countries. Volunteers from traditionally stigmatized groups volunteer to serve as books, answering candid questions from their lived experiences, hoping to challenge readers’ assumptions, misunderstandings, and biases. No matter the topic—whether a mental health or medical diagnosis, homelessness, addiction, religion, sexual identity—the HLO serves as a place where real people are on loan to readers: a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered. What originally started as a small social experiment has grown into a worldwide mission to "unjudge" others.
“We wanted to give those who are misunderstood and negatively judged a chance, or rather an opportunity, to explain who they really are,” HLO Manager Andrea Trudslev explained. “We all want to be understood and belong somewhere. But we also all have bias and stereotypes and negative prejudices. Not everyone has the opportunity to find out and explore whether what we believe about other people in our community is true within a safe space. That is what the Human Library Organization tries to do: make the world a little bit more inclusive one reading at a time.”
Name: Dr. Hindi Krinsky
Hometown: Long Island, NY
Organization: Hindi’s Libraries
Dr. Hindi Krinsky was a beloved wife, mother, friend, and teacher who passed away suddenly in 2018, but whose light, legacy, and love for literacy lives on. What started as a Little Library in Long Island, New York, has now become Hindi’s Libraries: an international outreach program that has collected and donated over 400,000 books in just four years. Through the generosity, dedication, and vision of her family, friends, and community, Hindi continues to make a difference and spark a passion for reading in the lives of so many. As Hindi’s Libraries’ co-founder Leslie Gang explained:
“In 2018, we lost a special soul - Dr. Hindi Krinsky – educator, avid bookworm, and mother of 5. Through Hindi’s Libraries, which was started in her name, we seek to get books into the hands of children who need them most. Reading provides children with the opportunity to explore the world, learn about the endless possibilities that await them. So many families are unable to purchase books for their young ones- or do not have libraries available to them- and it’s so imperative they have access to reading material - so they can be inspired and empowered to succeed and to persevere too.”
Name: Gina Komorowski
Hometown: Pickerington, OH
Title: Gifted Intervention Specialist
Nominator: Leanne Fabrycki Ross
Gina Komorowski is a Gifted Intervention Specialist at Harmon Middle School in Pickerington, Ohio. After beginning her teaching career in New Jersey, Gina has spent the last 9 years serving the students of Central Ohio. As a life-long lover of literacy and believer in the power of a quality education, Gina seeks to instill those same beliefs in her students and colleagues every day.
“Education as a key that opens the doors that are in your path; you just need to persevere and take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. Likewise, literacy can act as a passport for students--opening their eyes to different perspectives, new life experiences, and even help students aspire to be more than they realize they could be. Honestly, the right book (just like the right teacher) can change a life.”
Name: Mike Uetrecht
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Organization: Auntie V’s Corner of Kindness
For the past seven years, Mike Uetrecht has curated kindness at the corner of Ann and Sycamore Streets near downtown Columbus, Ohio. Auntie V’s Corner of Kindness, named after Mike’s aunt, best friend, and biggest cheerleader Veronica Barrett, provides area residents with books, food, and clothing throughout the year. More than that, though, it seeks to give its neighbors an open, inclusive, safe place full of hope and positivity.
“My vision is for Auntie V’s Corner of Kindness to be a place of brightness and hope that kids and adults alike can come and feel not judged but welcomed to pick out books to read or, if needed, food for themselves or their family. A place that, if you are able, you can contribute and use as an example of giving back and kindness. A way to teach your kids about giving. My aunt and I volunteered together a lot. She was the kindest soul I knew, and I really feel the Corner of Kindness shows her spirit to the world: an empathetic spot in this not always empathetic world.”
Name: Sean Patterson
Title: Founder, 411 Foundation; Coach, Liberty Christian Academy
Hometown: Steubenville, Ohio / Blacklick, Ohio
Sean Patterson is on a simple mission: to help others however he can. Whether it is teaching his players how to play with grit, integrity, and humility, or sponsoring blessing bags and back-to-school drives through his 411 Foundation in honor of his father, Sean aims to live every day through the lens of his favorite quote: “You have not lived today until you do something for someone who can never repay you.”
“Being a positive, steady influence for another person is so important. So many negative things exist in the world, and the negative energy seems to attract so much focus. It permeates into places, and I really want to combat that by being the change, and the lift that we all want to see in the world. My dad was a baseball and football coach when I was growing up. Knowing how he had instilled values and positive character traits in young players was something I carried over to my adulthood. Now, I am able to coach my son, and model for him that kind of positive interaction with other players.”
Name: Tracie Anderson
Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Nominators: Max and Jake Kress
Tracie Anderson is a third-year student in the University of Akron’s Early Childhood Inclusive Teacher Preparation Program and a preschool teacher at The Church in Silver Lake Preschool, where she is known for her love and commitment to both her students and her community.
Tracie is passionate about sharing her love for literacy with all children—including those for whom it does not come easily. As someone who struggled to read as a child herself, Tracie prides herself in meeting children wherever they are in their learning journey, celebrating the little moments, and leading with empathy.
“On the days the students are having a hard time I try to remember they have life happening outside of school too,” she explained. “If they’re acting out or withdrawn it’s my job to be there for them and help them as much as I can. I’ve had a lot of hard days myself this past year, as I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Going to school and putting on a happy face was hard some days. The kids' laughter, smiles, jokes, and innocence always gave me hope to get through the day.”
Name: Kristi Gatchel
Hometown: Fremont, Ohio
Title: Lecturer & Writing Consultant at Eastern Michigan University; Partnership & Program Coordinator for YpsiWrites
After her family encouraged her to follow her dreams into an academic field that she was passionate about, Kristi Gatchel went back to school to earn two degrees in Children’s Literature from Eastern Michigan University. Since then, she has used her skill, passion, and positivity to spread her love for literacy to everyone around her. Whether teaching college literacy courses, working at EMU’s student Writing Center, or supporting her community through YpsiWrites, Kristi believes in the power of words and their ability to make a difference in the lives of others.
“You never know what you are doing, big or small, that will make an impact on those around you. . . . [P]erhaps your kind smile or compliment changes their mood or outlook on the world which causes them to 'pass it on.' That one small action on your part has the ability to start a tidal wave of difference that impacts far more people than you will ever realize.”
Name: Kyle Ramsay
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Title: Principal & Athletic Director at Fairmont Heights Middle School
Kyle Ramsay has always been drawn to learning and teaching. Believing that literacy and education are “the gateways to access the world,” Kyle chose to make a career out of providing his students the keys to those gateways. From Dallas, Texas to Columbus, Ohio to Newark, New Jersey, Kyle has touched the lives of countless students in various teaching, coaching, administrative, and leadership roles. And they, in turn, have also touched his.
“My students are immensely resilient, caring, and aware,” he said with pride. “Seeing kids from a tough city change their lives and go to college gets me teary every year. My first year of teaching, I had two students that I have mentored up until day. They’re now college graduates and business owners, but when I met them they were troubled teenagers with no parents and packed a lot of anger. Seeing them succeed and knowing I can call them any time of day is the source of my will to keep going when the going gets tough every day.”
Name: Christal Holliday-Firmin
Title: Author; Founder, Owner, & Visionary for Holliday-Firmin Books & CJAA Publishing
Christal Holliday-Firmin is an author, business owner, and social media creative, sharing her light with the world every day. Christal draws on both her educational background (MBA and BA in Sociology) and her love for her family to inspire her to write, read, create, inspire, and promote literacy wherever and however she can. Whether it be through her book ("Mommy & Daddy's Christmas Treat") or through her social media presence (@theechildrenspoet), Christal seeks to change the world one post, one book, one child at a time.
“Children’s literacy is extremely important to me. Reading is one of the major building blocks of their future. Learning to love books, poetry, and reading with family/friends will help our future leaders to want to continue to learn and expand their vocabulary. In addition, it will help children foster positive relationships, be an advocate for diversity/inclusion, want to travel, try new things, learn how to express their feelings, and affirm themselves. I have made a promise to myself, to continue to post positive content, and to write positive stories that could potentially heal the world.”
Name: Cindy Saunders
Employer: Berne Union Elementary School
Nominator: Jolyn Pugh
In her 19th year of teaching, Cindy Saunders continues to go above and beyond to ensure her students are supported and prepared for the future. Whether it is undertaking personal fundraising efforts to provide her students with free books throughout the year, dropping off “learning buckets” to each of her students’ homes during the pandemic, or creating innovative ways to keep kids engaged during virtual learning sessions, Cindy Saunders always finds a way to put her students first and ensure they have the foundation to succeed in the future. Fostering a life-long love for books, reading, and story-telling is one of the ways in which she does so.
“Books and stories are such a wonderful way to escape reality even just for a moment. They help kids to understand how the world works, how to interact with others and can really help students feel connected to something much bigger than just themselves.”
Name: Kaitlin and Kevin Johnstone
Hometown: Upstate NY (Ellenville / Pine Bush)
Business: Kind Cotton
In 2017, the Johnstones launched Kind Cotton, an apparel brand aimed at promoting literacy and redefining kindness. For every clothing item purchased, Kind Cotton donates a children’s book to a deserving child, classroom, or library. To date, the Johnstones have donated over 42,000 books through their company. Over the past few years, they have also started initiatives that recognize and reward hard-working teachers and amplify and applaud the voices of emerging authors. Moreover, Kind Cotton, through its apparel and its mission, works to redefine what it means to “be kind”:
“We want to be on the right side of history. We want to inspire others to redefine kindness and cultivate a meaning that is rooted in justice and grounded in action. We know that the world is divided at this moment and we believe in using our voices and platform to bring about change all the while providing books to children along the way.”
Name: Dr. Arianna Howard, MS, MED, PHD
Title: Founder & Principal Consultant, Plant-A-Seed Educational Consulting; Creator of Radical Learning Spaces
Hometown: Mansfield, Ohio
Dr. Arianna Howard, MS, MED, PHD, is the founder and principal consultant for Plant-A-Seed Educational Consulting and the creator of Radical Learning Spaces, the curricula from which she teaches. Born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio, Dr. Howard’s profession and practice is a culmination of her experiences as a sister, student, teacher, administrator, trauma coach, and black woman. Drawing on these personal, research-based, and trauma-informed experiences, Dr. Howard has taught, supported, and empowered hundreds of students and educators. And despite the resistance and negativity she sometimes faces, it is the promise of a better future that keeps her motivated.
“Kids become adults who run the world. It is our responsibility to teach them to be compassionate, critical thinking humans who know to work, learn, and play together. And if we want others to change, we must believe in their capacity to do so.”
Name: Latasha Wilson-Batch
Hometown: Perth Amboy, New Jersey
Organization: Best of the Batch Foundation
Latasha Wilson-Batch is the Executive Director of the Best of the Batch Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based organization that serves nearly 4,000 children over 9 counties through a variety of outreach and educational programs. In her role, Latasha oversees the Foundation’s extensive afterschool programming for school-age youth, which includes mentoring and tutoring programs as well as initiatives like “Girl Talk,” which focuses on building self-esteem in young women. She also helps disseminate thousands of “Batch Packs” (STEAM kits provided to classroom teachers to promote hands-on learning for all students) and “Batch a Toys” (the foundation’s annual holiday toy drive, which serves over 180 local families).
“I care about these kids. They’re always my priority. Sometimes, me answering the door is the difference between a good decision and a bad decision, or it might be the only hug that child gets all day, so it’s important. They’re more than just names. I know all of those little humans and their stories and families. It’s why I do what I do.”
Name: Cindy Hieber
Hometown: Sugar Grove, Ohio
Role: Library Assistant, Fairfield County
Nominator: The Carpico Family
Cindy Hieber has spent her entire life surrounded by books. From earning a college degree in early childhood education, to working in bookstores, to spending the last 9 years as a Library Assistant, Cindy has promoted a love for literacy throughout her career. In her current role at the Fairfield County District Library, she has touched the hearts and minds of countless patrons through her dynamic story times. As Cindy's nominator explained:
“Ms. Cindy was a big part of our youngest daughter’s love for reading. During Ms. Cindy’s story time they read books, played games, and Ms. Cindy showed how reading can be so much fun. I have no doubt Ms. Cindy was doing more than her job required. She truly put her heart into the stories, the play, but most of all our children.”
Name: The Read to Succeed Foundation
Founder: Emily Spector
Location: New Albany, Ohio
The Read to Succeed Foundation was founded in 2013 by Central Ohio resident Emily Spector (while she was still in high school!) with the mission of providing free books to underprivileged children, thereby helping them build confidence in their reading skills, succeed in school, and ultimately escape the cycle of poverty. The Foundation is built on a simple but powerful motto: “Together we make a difference.” And accordingly to founder Emily Spector, you are never too young to do just that.
“At age 12, I had both a passion for reading and a growing awareness of how many children do not develop literacy. . . . and decided to take the initiative to make a difference in literacy and addressing the cycle of poverty,” she explained. “Slowly and with great commitment we have able to become strong and very impactful with 120 locations and over 115,000 beautiful children’s books donated. . . . With passion and commitment anyone who wants to make a difference can start small and grow beyond their expectations.”
Name: Jodi Ranegar
Hometown: Lancaster, Ohio
Jodi Ranegar is the Curriculum & Communications Director at Bloom-Carroll Local Schools, the creator of Literally Inspired (an online community for book lovers to share, review, and connect) and the founder of the inspiHER Girls Leadership Foundation, a program designed to inspire young women to dream big, believe in themselves, and to become confident leaders in their communities.
No matter which hat she wears, Jodi is always looking for an opportunity to lift and inspire others. A firm believer that “everyone has the potential to make a difference,” Jodi encourages those around her to let go of fear, live their dreams, and be the change.
“Sometimes we under-estimate the power of one act of kindness, one act of generosity, one smile, or one act of courage. . . . Big or small, the difference you can make in someone’s life can be life-changing to them and you may not even know it. . . . There is someone out there who needs you, depends on you, and whose life is better because of you.”
Name: Brock Johnson
Hometown: Canal Winchester, Ohio
Despite being born with an unknown autoimmune disease, Brock Johnson changed the world with his infectious energy and smile. He excelled in sports and school and was an avid reader. Heartbreakingly, Brock passed away in 2015 at the age of 14 following complications resulting from a bone marrow transplant. The BrockStrong Foundation continues to keep his legacy alight, however, investing nearly one million dollars back in the community since Brock’s passing. From sponsoring little libraries and book fairs, to spreading random acts of kindness throughout the community, to sponsoring families with children undergoing care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and funding travel baseball scholarships… the BrockStrong team, led by Brock’s parents Terry and Kristi, work tirelessly to spread hope, love, gratitude, and kindness in the name of their son.
Brock’s motto, “Every day is a gift,” should serve as a reminder to us all. Today is indeed a gift. May we make it a good one, and do our best to light up the world, as Brock continues to do.
Name: S.E.E.D. N Hope
Founders: Candace Paulucci and Annette Dominguez
Mission: Serve. Educate. Empower. Dream.
Founders Candace Paulucci and Annette Dominguez co-authored and self-published their book “How Mommy Found Her Way Home” in an effort to elevate the voices of the children of incarcerated parents and to empower those parents to maintain relationships with their loved ones while in prison. Drawing on their years of experience as clinicians specializing in therapeutic community groups in prisons across Ohio, Candace and Annette embody the motto “each one, teach one”: they strive to make a difference however they can and whenever they can, one person at a time.
“It is important to create safe spaces for those impacted by incarceration in order to express and process their feelings. People in our communities are suffering in silence: they deserve to be heard and they deserve to be helped.”
Name: Finnegan Miller
Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio
What Makes Him a Literacy Champion:
As a senior at Pickerington Central High School, Finn Miller runs cross country, volunteers as a homework helper and book buddy at his local library, participates in his school’s theater productions, and serves as one of the most beloved interns and docents at the Thurber House, a Central Ohio literary center whose mission is to celebrate the legacy of the late James Thurber.
Despite his young age, his commitment to bringing out the best in others—especially in the literacy arena—seems wise beyond his years, as does his motivation for continuing to do what he does. When asked why he feels compelled to help others, Miller provided a simple yet powerful response: “I believe if you put good into the world, good will come back to help you.”
Name: Dr. Mary Kathryn McVey
Title: Professor of Education at Franciscan University of Steubenville
Nominator: Tricia Saccoccia
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
Over the past 23 years, Dr. McVey has served Fransciscan University of Steubenville as a Professor of Education, using her role to not only teach the next generation of educators, but also improve childhood literacy rates within her community. By partnering with local elementary school administrators, Dr. McVey and her students work individually with first grade students to ensure children have the tools they need to succeed in the areas of reading and literacy.
“Reading and literacy mentoring is important because it is the catalyst to living a satisfying life,” Dr. McVey explained. “If we can mentor our youth in becoming literate; learning to read by grade three, and reading to learn from grades three and beyond, we have made a significant contribution to each child’s life; thus serving humanity.”
Name: S.R.D. Harris
Nominator: Cia English
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
Ever since she was a child, S.R.D. Harris has had a passion for reading and writing. And as an adult, she is using her time, talent, and energy to instill that passion in others. Whether publishing books to inspire children to dream big, volunteering with literacy-based organizations, adopting elementary school classrooms, or sponsoring book drives, Harris’s heart does as her words encourage: read more, do good.
“I believe literacy is critically important for children of all ages to learn, grow, explore the world, and be exposed to different ideas,” Harris explained. “I believe all children can spark a love of reading if they connect with the right books for them. . . . [which is why] I am so inspired to continue to write and publish books that children can enjoy, relate to and be inspired by.”
Name: Cam Rascoe
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
What Makes Him a Literacy Champion:
Cam Rascoe considers writing a blessing and a calling. In 2010, Rascoe self-published his first book, which was quickly followed by another six over the next four years. Over the years, Cam has used his pen and his voice to inspire, motivate, and help others. Through these writings and speaking engagements, Rascoe seeks to use his God-given abilities for good.
"Mentoring and motivational speaking are some of my most uplifting and rewarding activities. Sharing the knowledge and wisdom I've gained in this life comes freely. I keep it light and somewhat humorous or entertaining but I am very serious about how my message is received. Assisting the youth in finding success and joy in this life through encouragement and cheer warms my heart. It takes a village to raise a child and this is me doing my part."
Name: Bia Hamed
Title: Program Director of Digital Divas & Digital Dudes at Eastern Michigan University
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
As the Director of K-12 Outreach within the College of Engineering & Technology at EMU, Bia oversees Digital Divas and Digital Dudes, two innovative, progressive programs that encourage youth to pursue STEM education. Technological literacy is something Bia is passionate about, both personally and passionately, and something she believes every student should have access and exposure to.
“When there is a will there is a way, but you need to know things exist to be accessed. Navigating my way through college as a first-generation student was full of trials and tribulations, and I wasn’t aware of all the different majors available to me as a woman. My journey has inspired me to help others find their path to a better future by helping them navigate the college system and making sure they know their options.”
Name: Matthew Tyla
Hometown: Stow, Ohio / Fairfield Twp., Ohio
Nominator: Ann Swigart
What Makes Him a Literacy Champion:
As a former student-athlete at Bowling Green University and a certified English teacher, Matt Tyla has found a way to combine three of his favorite interests: football, literacy, and helping others. At Fairfield Senior High School, Coach Tyla serves as Co-Director of the high school's FLEX Program and an Offensive Line Coach with the Varsity Football Team. He also oversees the logistics of the Football Team’s Reading Program, which pairs Varsity athletes with elementary school students in an effort to promote literacy and foster a love for reading.
Whether lessons about literacy, game time strategy, or paying it forward, one thing is clear: Coach Tyla is motivating an entire generation of readers, thinkers, and givers.
Name: Rachel McAnespie
Hometown: Lancaster, Ohio
Title: Preschool Teacher, St. Mary's Preschool
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
In her 7th year as an educator, Rachel McAnespie describes teaching as something she was “just meant to do.” After seeing her with her students, there is little doubt about it: teaching is her calling. But in Ms. Rachel's classroom, it's about more than teaching ABCs and 123s: it’s about building foundations.
"I’m passionate about being an educator, because I love to watch the kids learn and grow. With the age level that I am teaching, it is about so much more than learning how to count and memorize letters. They are learning all of their foundations for life and I love to be apart of that. The amount kids grow and mature in such a short period of time is amazing. To be able to help kids do that, is truly special."
Name: Corinne "Renee" Blackford
Hometown: Medina & Hilliard, Ohio
Nominator: CND Staff
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
Renee’s passion as a Certified Prevention Specialist for Community for New Direction is evident. Over the past 21 years, Renee has committed to exemplifying “intentional integrity” and building positive relationships with youth, families, and schools in Central Ohio. To Renee, promoting literacy through CND’s in-school, after-school, and summer camp programs is important on a variety of levels: “Access to literacy enables people to keep up with current events, communicate effectively and understand world issues,” she explains. “Improved access results in improved literacy rates that can help reduce poverty and crime, help prevent the spread of some diseases through gaining information, and enhance cultural diversity.”
Name: Betsey Hines
Hometown: Upper Arlington, Ohio
Nominator: HFF Staff
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
As a long-time volunteer reading mentor at the Homeless Families Foundation, Betsey Hines has built mutual relationships based on trust, value, and love with her mentees. But Betsey believes she has learned more from the children than they have learned from her. “[T]he real learning has been what [my mentees] have taught me in our weekly talks. I see what systemic racism is. I have seen why poverty and education by zip code can lead to a future of frustration with a world that does not treat all equally,” she explains. That understanding has fueled Betsey’s commitment to be the change she wants to see in the world: “I will continue to volunteer, not for what I can do for others, but because of what doing for others has brought to my life.”
Name: Dr. Philip TK Daniel
Title: Professor Emeritus of Educational Administration, The Ohio State University
What Makes Dr. Daniel a Literacy Champion: Mid-way through his 48th year of teaching, Dr. Daniel has dedicated nearly half a century to educating the next generation of educators. His commitment to his students and the pursuit of education reform has earned him countless accolades, including OSU's prestigious Distinguished Service Award and a spot within the College of Education and Human Ecology's Hall of Fame.
But the true source of Dr. Daniel's motivation is not an award; it is the opportunity to effect meaningful change in his students and their work. "The quality and understanding of good teachers will impact the quality and understanding of their students," he explained. "Not just what they learn, but what they value."
Founder: Trudy Debolt
Location: Mt. Vernon, Ohio
What Makes WAGS a Literacy Champion:
WAGS (Working Dog Awareness Group) is an organization that is transforming students and shelter dogs one book at a time. Founded by Trudy Debolt, a 6th grade English teacher, WAGS aims to honor the military dogs of the Vietnam War while helping shelter dogs become more adoptable. Every Saturday, WAGS students visit the Knox County Animal Shelter to read to its K9 residents.
WAGS fulfills its motto, “Keeping hope alive” by teaching students that through reading and spending time with a shelter animal, they save a life and foster hope for a better future.
Name: Emily Kridel
Nominator: BBBS Staff
Camp Location: South Bloomingville, Ohio
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion: As the Education Director at Camp Oty'Okwa, Emily has shared her love for reading with countless campers, knowing that books can be a way for children to connect with themselves and others.
"The three pillars of Camp Oty'Okwa are Esteem, Empathy, and Example. I think reading helps kids grow in all these areas; they can be empowered to access information for themselves, they can learn more about the experiences of others, and they can see examples of all kinds of people in books. . . . I want to our campers, and all kids, learn to love reading because I know it will expand their world and improve their lives."
Name: Noreen Rohda
Hometown: Powell, Ohio
Nominator: Kara Gray
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion: As a preschool interventionist specialist for the special needs preschool program with Olentangy Local Schools, Noreen's love for a good story is infectious. As her nominator wrote, "You can see the joy of reading in her students faces every day." For Noreen, childhood literacy sets children up for long-term success: "Encouraging young people to read is important to me because if they have a love for reading it will become a life long love. It will also make all the other subjects easier as they move through school."
Name: Natalie Tannehill
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Nominator: Michele Whitmer
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion: As a high school language arts teacher, Natalie balances a rigorous course schedule, teaching classes such as AP Language and Composition, Contemporary English, and Journalism. In Natalie's view, "encouraging young people to read helps them develop a view of the world beyond what they see and experience each day. Reading inspires imaginations, develops ideas, broadens our horizons, and creates an enthusiasm for life. As a teacher, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to connect young people with books, and to watch them develop what hopefully becomes a lifelong love of reading."
Name: Sara Wolosiansky
Hometown: Green, Ohio
Nominator: Jillian Boone
What Makes Her a Literacy Champion:
It was important that I honor my mom, Sara Wolosiansky, as Read for a Cause's first Literacy Champion. From the time I could misspell words and draw stick figures, she has encouraged me to read, write, and create. And as a speech therapist, her hard work and generous heart at Community Speech Services has made an impact on thousands of children and adults. Finally, she never, ever, denies her grandchildren 'one more story!' despite exasperated it's-way-past-bedtime sighs from those grandchildren's parents.
Love you, Mom.
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