I am honored to serve as the Board Chair for New Haven Reads, a vibrant institution within our city that has a reach and an impact that far exceeds our size. Our mission is to share the joy and power of reading, a commitment we fulfill through our one-on-one tutoring of New Haven-area schoolchildren at four sites and a book bank open to the public. New Haven Reads has developed a model for building literacy within underserved neighborhoods and populations by pairing volunteers with children in a calm, focused and nurturing environment, surrounded by books. The children tutored at New Haven Reads make demonstrable improvements in their literacy; less quantifiable, but equally important, is the mentoring that takes place as these student/tutor relationships develop. The buzz of learning and the building of self-esteem, as children realize that yes, they can read, they can complete that homework assignment, under the guidance of our tutors and skilled staff, is palpable each day at New Haven Reads. We have had so many successes. In a few short years, we grew from a small community book bank started by our visionary founder, Christine Alexander, into an institution distributing over 100,000 free books each year to the community and tutoring over 500 students each week without cost to our students. In 2016, we opened our fourth site.
When faced with the challenge of the pandemic in 2020, we quickly developed a distance learning model that preserves the one-on-one tutoring relationships. Although the number of students we served was affected by the lack of technology or reliable internet in some students’ homes, we were able to obtain laptops and hotspots for many of them. They have been able to access their schoolwork as well as participate in our tutoring. Most students now receive tutoring twice a week, which was not possible due to space limitations pre-pandemic. In 2020, we also launched an intensive supplemental program to assist our most struggling readers. It is a science-based pilot developed with Literacy How. We hope to refine and expand this model to reach more children who need extra assistance beyond our regular tutoring.
We have much more to do. Over one-fifth of our city’s children live in poverty and two-thirds read below grade level. As a Board, we are extremely mindful of the importance of sustainable growth and of reinforcing the gains we made. I am constantly amazed at how New Haven Reads achieves so much on such a small budget. We are committed to maintaining the concentration of our funds towards our programs and ensuring that we stretch every dollar and every inch of space to serve our students and their families.
New Haven Reads contributes on many levels to our city. Most critically, we support meaningful and successful relationships between one child and one caring adult that lead to a love of reading and academic success. Fundamentally, we improve the lives of the children we serve. But we also improve the lives of those who donate their time to work with these children. For example, we are teaching college students that the world is larger than their campuses and that their work can change lives. We are connecting retirees, who have so much to offer, with youngsters who benefit from their wisdom and care. Our work occurs one hour, one tutoring session at a time, but the accumulation of that work is astounding. As we see these students grow in literacy, we also see them become aware of the joy and power of reading: that school matters, college is possible, and reading is wonderful.