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Reading Is Fundamental Names Three Exceptional Supporters ‘2013 Volunteers of the Year’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2012 – Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation’s largest children’s literacy organization, has awarded its three recipients of the 2013 Anne Hazard Richardson RIF Volunteer of the Year Award – Kay Gooch of Austin, Texas; Sara Massey of New Orleans, La.; and Linda Placzek of Omaha, Neb.

“These exceptional women embody the very essence of Reading Is Fundamental and our Book People Unite campaign,” said Carol H. Rasco, President and CEO of RIF. “Volunteers serve as the backbone of our work, ensuring children in underserved communities not only have books but also have experiences that create a true passion for reading and learning. Through dedication and perseverance, Kay, Sara and Linda have helped put countless children on a path for success in school and life.”

RIF’s Book People Unite campaign (www.bookpeopleunite.org) is a bold awareness campaign focusing on children’s literacy issues and sparking a movement of supporters nationwide. Each of the 2013 Volunteers of the Year has worked in her community to rally support and unite Book People in a common goal for children’s literacy.

The 2013 Anne Hazard Richardson Volunteer of the Year Award winners will be recognized during RIF's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE Gala in Washington, D.C., May 9. For more information about RIF’s Gala, visit www.rif.org/gala.

Brief stories describing each volunteer’s support in her community follow:

Kay Gooch, Austin, Texas
Gullett Elementary Librarian Kay Gooch remembers Reading Is Fundamental from her childhood – her mother volunteered for more than 20 years. So when Kay’s school joined a RIF Read-A-Thon years ago, Kay gladly took the lead. Seven years later, Kay’s students, through pledges from family, friends and neighbors, have raised more than $135,000 for RIF programs in underserved communities in Austin.

“I kick off the program by pulling out a bookcase full of their favorite books – from classics like ‘Fox in Socks’ to new best-sellers like ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’ We talk about how much these books mean in their lives. Then I cart out a bookshelf that’s mostly empty, just two or three tattered covers of old, unwanted books,” explained Gooch, who says her children get it immediately. “They can’t imagine how life would be without their books and they’re so passionate about helping other kids. The fact is that the children they’re helping are in their own community – they may be in the same Girl Scout troops or on the same soccer teams. It really brings it home for them.”

Kay credits a community of readers with the program’s success – whether it’s the family members and friends who pledge a nickel or dime for every page a student reads, or it’s the community sponsors whose incentives add excitement to the experience. But the staff at BookSpring, which runs the RIF program, says Kay’s passion and enthusiasm have been the hallmark of the program’s success.

Sara Massey, New Orleans, La.
As President of Communities in Schools in Greater New Orleans, Sara Massey needed a solution to replace all the books lost in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
“We had one box of ‘donated’ books that were 60-year-old chemistry text books. They belonged in a recycling plant, not a school that had just lost everything. RIF was the solution, providing thousands of high-quality, brand new books for our kids,” explained Massey, who says she goes to work every day knowing she has a chance to add value in a child’s life.

Massey, who has been volunteering with RIF for four years, says many of the children she serves have no books at home other than their RIF books – and they provide something far beyond an educational experience.

“I remember one time I was doing a RIF book distribution. Two little girls – maybe 6 or 7 – wiggled up right next to me on the floor so we could read their books. I looked down and said to one of them, ‘Wow, you really like to cuddle, don’t you? She looked back at me and asked, ‘What’s cuddle?’”

Massey continued, “It sounds simple – reading aloud with a child. But it provides so much beyond words on a page. That experience led us to create reading events that brought parents and children into their schools together with the teachers – many for the first time. In each school where we held these programs, the schools sustained them annually because it’s was such an enriching experience.”

Linda Placzek, Omaha, Neb.
As a retired elementary school principal, Linda Placzek knows the impact books can have on children. When she retired seven years ago, she really didn’t stop working. Instead, Placzek united with the Kiwanis volunteers who had been helping get RIF books to children in her school since the early ‘90s.

“I saw the Kiwanis coming into our school and saw the joy they’d bring to our children – and the difference it would make to the students’ passion for reading – and I wanted to be a part of that as a volunteer,” said Placzek.

Under Placzek’s leadership with the Kiwanis, more than 6,000 books have been distributed to Omaha’s Conestoga Magnet School since her retirement. Placzek has also recruited 15 Kiwanians to read with students at Conestoga Elementary every week.

“The Kiwanis members involved in this project get just as much out of it as the kids do. It fills their bucket,” said Placzek. “Last year, I was working with a third-grader who was really struggling. It was clear he was trying, but he was having a tough time reading. As he headed home for the summer, I reassured him that he could get better. It just took practice. He pledged to read 15 or 20 minutes each night.”

She continued, “This fall, as I sat down to read with him, he took out a big chapter book. He opened it up and started reading like he’d been a strong reader all his life. The difference was amazing. All the reports say that if they don’t have it by third grade, they won’t get it. But he did. And I got to be a part of it.”

About Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)
Reading Is Fundamental delivers free books and literacy resources to children and families in underserved communities in the United States. By giving children the opportunity to own a book, RIF inspires them to become lifelong readers and achieve their full potential. As the nation’s largest children’s literacy nonprofit, RIF has placed 400 million books in the hands of more than 35 million children since it was established in 1966. Learn more and help provide books to kids who need them most, visit RIF.org.

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RIF National Media Contact: Jay Brown | 202-536-3528 | jbrown@rif.org

Reading Is Fundamental Names Three Exceptional Supporters ‘2013 Volunteers of the Year’