Today launches a new chapter, pardon the pun, in the inspiring story of the Madison Reading Project. And the new chapter will involve plenty of road trips.
After reaching thousands of kids across the Madison region with many thousands of free books since the organization began in 2013, the Madison Reading Project is taking its show on the road.
The Big Red Reading Bus starts rolling today.
The advantage of a “bookmobile” has been clear for a long time and is a familiar concept that has produced great opportunities and warm memories for many of us as we think back to our school days.
At the core of the Madison Reading Project’s mission is simply to get new and gently used books into the hands of young children whose families don’t have the means to purchase books themselves. The organization obtains and then gives away a mix of new and used books, but the used books need to qualify as “just like new” to make the cut.
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The Reading Bus is a big step forward for the Madison Reading Project. It was funded through a $50,000 matching grant from the Madison Community Foundation. That grant has been matched, so the Big Red Reading Bus is gassed up, loaded with books — 2,000 of them! — and ready to hit the road.
“When kids get to pick out the books they want to read, it can be a really emotional response for them,” said Rowan Childs, the group’s founder and executive director.
The bus will expand the reach of the Madison Reading Project, which has a home base and donation center on Madison’s West Side on Excelsior Drive. Now, all sorts of community events, neighborhood festivals and similar opportunities are on the list of potential places for families and kids to get free books.
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The Madison Reading Project functions with eight paid staff, about 40 steady volunteers and many more who contribute time and effort on a spot basis. The group’s gains in spreading literacy are undeniable. Last year, it gave away 30,000 books to about 20,000 kids and offered 125 separate programs. This year, it is shooting for 40,000 books and 125 programs.
It’s great work, and it’s helping to chip away at literacy shortfalls and achievement gaps, one family and one kid at a time. The group operates on a budget of about $180,000 a year, raised through grants, events and personal donations.
If you’d like to see the Madison Reading Project continue to prosper and to engage children in need in our community with free books, consider becoming a volunteer, a financial supporter, or both.