In late October the Rotary Club of Gresham presented dictionaries to third grade students in Centennial School District and Oregon Trail School District. ‘Rotary has had a longtime interest in literacy,’ said Dr. Chuck Hawkins, club president. ‘We regularly donate books to our local school libraries, but the dictionary project is a new effort this year.’
The first schools to receive the books were Lynch View Elementary and Lynch Meadows Elementary. The students were excited to receive their dictionaries and were thrilled to know that the dictionaries are theirs to keep. The project had its initial stages on September 8, designated as Rotary’s International Literacy Day. At the time of this writing, students at Sandy Grade School and Boring’s Naas Elementary were eagerly awaiting their dictionaries.
Diane Noriega, Literacy Chair for the club, explained to the students that Gresham Rotary is a service organization that helps the community in many ways. This year the club wanted to do something special for school kids to help them be even better learners.
When asked what they use dictionaries for, the students were quick to respond, ‘To find out what words mean! And to find out how to spell and pronounce words!’ With warm thanks to the presenters, the students immediately wrote their names on the inside covers and put their dictionaries to use, looking up words.
‘One would think, looking at their smiles, they’d been given a piece of gold,’ Noriega said. ‘We hope this additional resource for learning will contribute to their future success.’
Rotary International has entered a cooperative relationship with the International Reading Association (IRA) to provide a way to collaborate and combine resources to promote literacy worldwide.
A memorandum of understanding between the two organizations was first signed in 2002 and renewed in 2005 and 2009. Rotary Clubs and Districts, and IRA councils and affiliates, are encouraged to share resources and information and to develop cooperative literacy projects.
The International Reading Association is a professional membership organization dedicated to promoting high levels of literacy for all by improving the quality of reading instruction, disseminating research and information about reading, and encouraging a lifetime reading habit.
IRA members include teachers, reading specialists, consultants, administrators, supervisors, university faculty, researchers, psychologists, librarians, media specialists, and parents. Rotary Clubs and Districts are encouraged to consult an IRA member representative to identify and address literacy needs in their communities.
Since 1956, IRA has been a nonprofit, global network of individuals and institutions committed to worldwide literacy. More than 70,000 members strong, the association supports literacy professionals through a wide range of resources, advocacy efforts, volunteerism, and professional development activities.
The mission of the International Reading Association is to promote reading by continuously advancing the quality of literacy instruction and research worldwide. Almost 800 million people worldwide are unable to read or write, a lack of skills that makes them especially vulnerable to hunger, disease, and extreme poverty. Nearly two-thirds of these—500 million—are women.
Without literacy and access to a basic education, these women are poorly equipped to access resources and make decisions that improve the lives of their children and families. Today, 72 million children of primary school age are not in school.
The Literacy Resource Group connects Rotarians with the information and tools they need to actively promote literacy at home and abroad. It asks Rotary Clubs to learn about literacy and education issues in their communities and to help increase access to quality learning opportunities for those in need. Clubs are also encouraged to work with the International Reading Association and the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library to conduct literacy projects worldwide.
Everyone can help
Rotary International and the IRA are eager to mention that anyone can contribute to the promotion of worldwide literacy, suggesting the following idea starters that can be engaged in by individuals or groups, not only on International Literacy Day, but throughout the year:
• Work independently or with your local Rotary Club.
• Stage a Fun Run for Literacy and provide donated books to participants.
• Use newspapers to go global—conduct a scavenger hunt for country names or compare how stories are covered by newspapers from different parts of the world.
• Match different alphabets (Chinese, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hindi, etc.) to countries.
• Read and compare folk tales from different countries.
• Invite students, parents, or guests who have lived in other parts of the world to read a story or to talk about classrooms in other countries.
• Hold a cultural fair with information displays about children’s native or ancestral countries. Read stories, share songs, and have people dress in ethnic costumes.
• Have students select countries, research essays on similarities/differences of literacy issues internationally.
• Create an event with a reading theme, such as Read Across Asia or Reading Takes Me Places. Be part of a read-in chain that celebrates books written by authors of certain ethnic or cultural groups, like the Hispanic American Read-In Chain.
• Celebrate with a book fair. Invite an author or illustrator.
• Form links with a school or educational group in another country and have letter-writing campaigns, book collections, and other activities that generate media and public interest in your school or group about literacy issues in other parts of the world.
• Think globally, act locally. The internet is a great resource for communicating throughout the world. Tap into its potential as a tool for making global contacts.
• Ask an adult learner involved in a literacy program to give a testimonial.
• Tap your students’ creativity for ideas about how to make the community more aware of literacy issues.
• Establish a one-day hotline that community members call with questions about reading, learning disabilities, literacy programs, and resources. Staff hotline with reading professionals/volunteers from literacy organizations.
• Have older students make books to share with younger students or donate to childcare centers.
• Conduct a read-a-thon to raise money for community literacy programs.
• Partner with a television/radio station, magazine/newspaper to support literacy projects.
• Ask a local business to help heighten awareness about a reading or literacy topic. A supermarket chain may agree to print a literacy message on its shopping bags. A local dairy might carry tips for parents on its packaging. Many utility suppliers feature community issues in newsletters sent with monthly bills.
• Invite a publisher to your classroom or school to discuss how books are developed.
• Ask a local bookstore to donate books to disadvantaged children or for reading contest prizes.
• Initiate an annual contest or award. Hold a writing contest for students or senior citizens, or a film contest for the best home video about reading.
• Organize local businesses to raise money to purchase magazines and books for area schools.
• Recruit sponsors/mentors who will ensure that children have school supplies and an adult to read with.
• Hold a press conference to publicize literacy issues in your community.
Show me the money!
In her proposal for a matching grant for funds to buy the 500 dictionaries, Noriega stressed that Gresham has a population that is growing in diversity: economic, ethnic, and language. ‘Literacy is the key to success in school, in the workforce, and in building strong and contributing citizens in our community. It has also been shown that literacy helps reduce gang affiliation, since stronger learners see other opportunities in life other than joining a gang.’
But some parents do not have the wherewithal to purchase books for their children and even find the library intimidating. ‘This is an opportunity to help parents help their children and hopefully begin to break the cycle of low literacy rates and low levels of education,’ Noriega said.
Noriega, who holds a doctorate degree in Confluent Education from University of California, Santa Barbara, recently moved to Sandy with her husband and hoped to find a Rotary Club in Sandy. The closest one was in Gresham, where their 57th Annual Steak Fry was held on September 8 this year.
At that event Noriega delivered a brief presentation about the the Rotary Club of Gresham, which was chartered on May 6, 1948. The club currently has over 56 active members, and meets at The Fourth Street Brewing Co. in downtown Gresham at noon on Wednesdays.
Over and above the literacy program, the mission of Rotary International is simple: Service above Self. The Rotary Club of Gresham is committed to service in the local community, the region, and the world, focusing on youth, families in need, and the environment.
Noriega said Gresham Rotary is known for a real hands-on approach to service to the community. ‘Our members are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Every year we:
• Clean up Camp Collins YMCA Camp;
• Maintain the trail at Gradin Sports Park and a ‘Little Park’, both built by Rotary;
• ‘Adopt’ families every holiday season delivering gifts to families in need;
• Award scholarships to high school seniors going to college;
• Regularly deliver Meals on Wheels;
• Donate books to local school libraries;
• Award grants from $500-$2500 to other local non-profits.’
On an international level, Gresham Rotary is engaged with other Rotary Clubs on international projects, such as bringing fresh water to villages in Indonesia and planting Moringa trees in remote villages in Obregon, Mexico, to provide a rich food source for villagers in times of drought and when crops are scarce, and the eradication of polio.
And, of course, they are working on several new initiatives, including the literacy project and preparing to work on cleaning up and restoring a major section of Johnson Creek.