In DC, Everybody Wins!
In a country that needs well-educated citizens in order to compete globally, there cannot be a large enough emphasis put on the ability to read. One of the biggest problems facing Washington D.C. today is the city’s poor literacy rate. In D.C., nearly 36 percent (170,000) of the District’s residents are functionally illiterate, significantly higher than the national average of 21 percent.
For many of D.C.’s residents, the problem started early, both at school and at home:
- Among 4th graders eligible for free or reduced lunches, 71% in Washington, DC read below the basic level according to 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
- In 2007 “Nations Report Card” the national (average) reading score for 4th graders was 220 whereas the average for DC 4th graders was only 197.
- The 2010 “Nations Report Card” revealed that the District of Columbia’s 4th and 8th graders scored the lowest reading scores compared to all states.
In a city where students struggle to read, everybody loses. The kids lose because they can’t read. Those kids become parents, who in turn will not be able to teach their kids to read. The cycle repeats until people step in and help.
In Washington D.C., one of the many nonprofits stepping in is Everybody Wins DC! Now entering its 17th year, Everybody Wins DC is doing its part to reduce illiteracy in DC by providing children in their program with three new books. More importantly, those kids are given a mentor to read with them every week.
“One of the great parts of the program is bringing two lives together who ordinarily wouldn’t meet,” says Mary Salander, Executive Director of Everybody Wins DC. “[Seeing] that child and mentor coming together is just magical.”
Everybody Wins DC recruits its mentors from a number of companies, federal agencies, other various organizations committed to improving literacy in the city.
“We’re always looking for outreach. We’re all about partnership. We have at least 120 different groups that send us employees to read in our programs,” says Salander.
One of those employees is 10-year veteran volunteer Jacqueline Hess, who started volunteering shortly after the events of 9/11. For Hess and many like her, the experience of becoming a mentor is very rewarding.
“After 9/11, personally, like everybody else, I was shell shocked and kind of walking around mourning all of these people who had died,” said Hess. “I mean it was such a terribly sad time and I was extremely sad. I remember that it was after working with my mentee, a six year old boy, that for the first time I felt that it was ok to smile again. I felt better.”
Hess says that Everybody Wins does a great job of making its mentors and volunteers feel appreciated.
“They have the kids make us little thank you projects a couple times a year. There’s a thank you lunch and program at the end of every year, and they send us emails and letters during the year,” she said.
More importantly, though, the children in the program get an opportunity to get the kind of support they may not get anywhere else.
“Many of them come from economically at risk homes where parents are working so hard or there may be single parent homes or there may be a lot of kids or the parents may not be fluent enough in English to give them a lot of reading support,” says Hess. “So this is an opportunity for kids to have focused one on one attention.”
Salander says that despite the challenges they face, parents from the inner city want what all parents want.
“No matter if they’re from middle income, or upper middle income families. They want the best for their children,” she says. “We have waiting lists of kids who want a mentor in their life.”