Read-In program receives $50,000

The gift is 10 times larger than the program’s annual budget.

Justin Horwath

For the past 11 years, the African American Read-In program has been getting by on a $5,000 annual budget.

But that number increased tenfold March 2 when it was announced that the program, a literacy initiative that encourages reading and writing skills for students, received a $50,000 award from James Patterson, author of Hollywood-adapted novels “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls.”

Coordinator of the Read-In program Ezra Hyland said the award was “totally out of the blue.”

The award was granted as a part of the PageTurner Awards, which Patterson heads.

Hyland plans on using the money to bring in speakers, buy books, fund a chess club to teach “critical thinking and literacy,” and organize book drives throughout the community.

The foundation gives awards to people or groups that create an interest in books.

Hyland said the program submitted an application but didn’t do any campaigning for an award.

“We figured that we would at least get $5,000, but $50,000; I’m still having trouble believing that,” he said.

The awards totaled $500,000, with Read-In program receiving the second-highest gift, the Champions Award, along with three other organizations and schools.

“Mr. Patterson said that there are a lot of programs like ours, but we just do it a lot better,” Hyland said. “I think he appreciated how we do it year-round and incorporate all age groups.”

The University’s Department of Postsecondary Learning and Teaching co-sponsors the program and works with students across the community with activities like read-ins, book drives and book clubs.

Titilayo Bediako, executive director of the WE WIN Institute, a mentoring program for students in Minneapolis public schools that works with Hyland’s program, said the gift was great because “here you have a celebrity saying that reading is important.”

She noted that students in Minneapolis public schools are “on average, two years behind in reading.”

Hyland said the program tries to incorporate black literature into daily activities. If children are working on a quilting activity, they read up on the history of quilting as it relates to black literature.

“Our goal is to get people started so they can then carry on and read on their own,” he said.

One of the co-sponsors of the program is Barnes and Noble at the Mall of America. Randy Geurts, community relations manager, said the store looks to forge a long-term partnership with the program.

“From our standpoint, what makes it so special is how immediate the scope (of the program) is,” he said. “The books we give to the African American Read-In program are in children’s hands the next day.”