An Interview with Carol Rasco from Reading Is Fundamental

Like nearly everyone from my generation who watched Saturday morning cartoons, I remember those old PSAs RIF did with Ed Asner and Carol Burnett. The message that every kid deserves a book of their own really resonated with me even when I was 8 years old. All the more so now that I have made my life in the field of education and children’s literature. It was a great honor to meet Carol Rasco the president and CEO of RIF last fall ath the Kidlit Bloggers Conference in Seattle, Washington and an even greater honor to work in some of her RIF supported schools in Washington DC last month. Here I am with one of the wonderful librarians I met on that trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m delighted to welcome Carol to the Mixed Up Files as a part of our ongoing series highlighting literacy programs.

RIF has been a smashing success for decades on the simple premise that kids in need ought to have a few books of their own choosing to keep forever, delivered in an environment that celebrates literacy, and supports the adults in the community who are raising up young readers. Last year in support of that goal RIF provided 14 million books to 4 million children.

Can you speak a little bit more about RIFs newer programs, Care to Read and Family of Readers?

 

RIF recognized a number of years ago that the books were an ingredient around which we should build additional services in order to further our mission “To motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life.”  Our primary population to be served is that of children at highest risk of failure to learn to read which in truth the majority of the time means children in poverty. 

Two training courses for “train the trainers” were developed: Care to Read for those who care for young children as well as the parents and Family of Readers for parents of school age children and others who work with this age group. Both courses are built on the importance of talking and reading with children, making reading an enjoyable activity…with a sensitivity as well to the fact many of the parents of children in RIF’s primary population served are parents who do not feel they read well, do not read in English, are not comfortable reading with their children. Through corporate funding and fee for service contracts RIF conducts these courses across the country with the demand outstripping the funding available, particularly as schools seek to cover all bases in striving to increase achievement levels. 

Research shows the critical role parental engagement plays in achievement and help in involving parents is welcomed by most organizations. As part of this effort we are also helping local communities discover the power of parent/child reading nights or activities that bring communities or subsets of communities together to share in the excitement of reading together!

 

One of the most inspiring things about my time working in RIF schools last month was hearing from the women on your staff about why they came to RIF and how much the mission of RIF has meant in their lives. How did you come to be involved with RIF and how long have you been with the organization?

As I left my time in overall domestic policy at the state and federal levels of government, I knew I wanted to focus on children’s programming and policy either in health, child welfare, disability issues and/or education.  The RIF opening seemed and has been a wonderful place over the last ten years (since November 2001) from which to work on all of these to some extent with the emphasis in education and literacy of course.  From my time as a teacher and elementary counselor 40 years ago as well as my role as a parent to a child with special learning needs, I came away with a passion to insure all children and their families have the tools and background needed to have children ready to enter school to learn to read and then supports as needed upon entering school to insure the ability to read well and independently by the end of third/fourth grade. To do less means our nation has failed the child.  

My favorite thing about being a teacher is the collection of victory stories accumulated over the years about children who have succeeded against great odds or who came to you a closed shell of resentment and defeat and then with the right touch, blossomed into an amazing young learner. Do you have a favorite victory story or two from your time with RIF?

It never fails. Anytime I go to speak or simply to be present for RIF at an outside event, someone comes up to me to tell me her/his “RIF story” and often holding the first or the most memorable RIF book received.  It is usually encased in plastic wrap or a sandwich bag and has often been in “Mom’s attic” where the heat has hardened the glue along the spine and the book is falling apart.  There are frequently tears of gratitude that are shed…it is most humbling and is matched by the twinkles in eyes of children selecting a RIF book or the wonder present in first time RIF kids when they realize they “really, really” get to have the book to keep. 

This video of Dr. Dale Allender tells in brief one such story; he contacted us when he learned of the funding problems we were facing in Congress, he wanted to help by telling his RIF story.  One piece not in the video is the fact his doctoral dissertation was based in part on mythology first brought to his attention and activating his interest in reading by way of that first RIF book! 

 

Given the importance of the mission and the long-track record of success, I was simply gob-smacked to hear that RIF was subjected to a major cut in funding last year. How is RIF moving forward in spite of this financial set back?

Federal fiscal year 2013 will mark the first time in 34+ years that RIF has not had a federal grant with which to assist local communities in purchasing new paperback books from which children can select and own books as their own.  The President recommended this cut for RIF along with numerous other literacy groups in order to make the funds competitive in a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which has not occurred, is not yet even a process underway in Congress).  

At RIF we know the need is great and while we will continue to work hard to have funds reinstated in the federal budget, we are moving ahead to downsize our operation, to increase our corporate and private fundraising, to assist our local programs in doing the same.   We are fortunate that we have not lost funders due to this grant loss and many of those funders are seeking to increase their efforts as well.  However, let’s not kid ourselves, we in no way can make up the amount of that grant per year on a sustained basis which provided 15 million books annually to more than four million children. We are also continuing to develop apps and other new programs that were underway as we know it takes an array of tools and methods to meet the needs of all children.

We are also excited about a brand refresh project that was well underway before the loss of the federal grant. This past fall we unveiled a bold new look and logo which marked the beginning of an awareness campaign designed to honor RIF’s iconic brand and spark a widespread movement in support of reading. The new logo is a modern formation of an open book—its openness symbolizes a voice for underserved communities and the world of possibilities opened to children through reading.

  • Today we are launching the awareness campaign aptly named, Book People Unite. The campaign aims to focus national attention on the children’s literacy crisis in America and calls on anyone who believes in the power of books to transform lives to stand with RIF and help get book in the hands of kids that need them most. (see initial video on home page, www.rif.org )
  • The campaign will be formally announced April 16th and will extend well beyond 2012. At the center of the campaign will be the release of a new, history-making PSA showcasing for the first time several of America’s most beloved book characters—including Pinocchio, Babar, Clifford, Madeline, and many others coming together for the love of reading. 
  • This initiative was funded by the generous support of Macy’s, a long time RIF partner, contributing over $21 million to RIF since 2004. Additional funding and support has been provided by the Ad Council, Library of Congress, and creative agency, Mother New York. 

The Mixed Up Files readers are a community of people dedicated to literacy and I’m sure many would like to know how they can best help RIF at this critical time and also how they might bring RIF services their own community. What do you suggest?

We welcome the Mixed Up Files readers, we know you are all Book People and hope you will become involved in the campaign!  Join us in taking the Book People pledge - declaring your belief in the transformative power of books for children.

Don’t forget a lovely gift for someone is to give to RIF in the person’s honor.  For each $2.50 given a new paperback book can be given to a child, cost inclusive of handling!

If your local community is seeking to build a greater literacy learning environment, do not hesitate to write us at contactus@rif.org, we are eager to visit with you! (put to ATTN: Carol Rasco so I can make sure I see your request!) 

And don’t forget to explore and refer others to our award winning website where there are many great activities for children and for families.

Thank you for sharing your time with us, Carol. In the comments today I’d love to hear from our readers about the difference that book ownership made in your life or that one pivotal book that spoke deeply to you. Let’s hear YOUR stories!

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