Skip to Content

Reading Pays Off for Youth Leaders for Literacy

NEA, YSA give thousands in cash grants to youngsters launching literacy projects

WASHINGTON - January 24, 2008 -

Whether it’s a buzz cut, a flattop, or a fade, youngsters will be looking good as they turn pages, thanks to an innovative literacy project that inspires boys to read and rewards them with free hair cuts.  George Cook III, a sixth grader at Middle Township Middle School in Cape May Court House, N.J., is just one of the 2008 Youth Leaders for Literacy Grant winners for his creative community-based project that offers reading inspiration.

Joining Cook is a reading roster consisting of a diverse and multicultural group of winners.  From animation and audio books to sports and an open mic contest, America’s youngsters created some big ideas to get kids reading.  This year, Youth Leaders for Literacy is awarding 30 cash grants of $500 each to winners, totaling $15,000.

The National Education Association, which represents 3.2 million teachers and public school educators, joined forces with Youth Service America to develop Youth Leaders for Literacy to encourage community service through innovative, youth-designed pilot programs that benefit others in their communities.  The national competition received more than 200 entries—an amount that continues to grow each year with the program’s popularity.

“Educators and parents face a daily challenge of how to cultivate children’s love for reading,” said NEA President Reg Weaver.  “When youngsters are encouraged to brainstorm and design literacy programs for their generation and community, it’s another remedy for the reading blues that really works.”

Developed in 2001, the youth-led initiatives are launched on NEA’s Read Across America Day, celebrated this year on Monday, March 3, and culminate during YSA’s Global Youth Service Days, scheduled for April 25–27, 2008.  Attached is a list of the 30 grant winners being honored from across the country. 

“The Youth Leaders for Literacy Grant winners demonstrate unprecedented global caring and initiative, showing the world that young people can be leaders today, not in some distant tomorrow,” said Steve Culbertson, president and CEO of YSA. “By combining the dynamics of leadership, service and learning, the Youth Leaders for Literacy recipients build one of the most critical skills—the ability to read.” 

Additional information on NEA’s Read Across America and Youth Leaders for Literacy is available at .



With an impressive 200-plus number of entries, competition was fierce among this year’s crop of applicants for the 2008 Youth Leaders for Literacy Grants, sponsored by the National Education Association and Youth Service America.  Here’s a list of the 30 winners, arranged by city and state in alphabetical order:

Tucson, Ariz.—They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  That’s why 20 members the National Junior Honor Society at Gridley Middle School will launch “Reading Mentor Project,” which matches eighth graders with sixth-grade students to write and illustrate their own picture books.  All literary creations will be entered into a young authors contest, and winning students will travel to community elementary schools to read their books to students in kindergarten and first grades.

Littleton, Colo.—The Mortensen Elementary School’s “Bookworms,” a group of four fifth graders, will organize a read-a-thon extravaganza to encourage reading around-the-clock while raising funds to provide much needed school supplies to the Denver Children’s Home, an organization designed to treat traumatized, abused and neglected children ages six to 18.

Wilmington, Del.—For some students, a way to get to the heart of reading is through their stomachs.  Members of “Cooks and Bakers” at Delcastle Tech High School will cook up some fun and feed the need to read by recreating some Seuss culinary classics while reading to children at their local library. The students will show that reading can be fun and delicious, too!

Orlando, Fla.—Reading will be out of this world when students at the University of Central Florida launch a multigenerational Read Across America celebration for students at Riverside Elementary School.  Designed for students in grades K–3, the event will highlight readings by special guests, including NASA astronauts, while providing book donations to the students so that reading continues all year long.

Atlanta, Ga.—Embracing their rich African culture, 21 student members of Otu Umunne Cultural Organization Inc., a volunteer support group comprised of Igbo women who promote their culture, will organize a story hour and “book talks” to share the Igbo culture and traditions with their community.  The literacy project will educate students about the history and traditions of their Igbo culture, one of the three ethnic groups comprising Nigeria.

Ewa Beach, Hawaii—Bridging the waters of the South Pacific, members of the Interact Club at Campbell High School will create audiotapes of children’s stories for their global service learning project.  The students will record readings of children’s stories to create audio books, which are designed to help Vietnamese students learn English.  After completion of the project, the audio books will be donated to the library of an adopted school in Vietnam.

Athens, Ill.—Students in the gifted program at Athens Junior High School will create literacy resource kits known as “Kid Kits” for their community library.  The group of 25 students will write and illustrate books for the “Kid Kit,” as well as create reading games, puzzles, videos and other resources to help making reading fun.  With themes like “Under the Sea” that display oceanography, to “Down on the Farm” focusing on agriculture and farming, the kits will be presented to the libraries and will be available for the teachers, students and community members at any time.

Indianapolis, Ind.—Members of the PlayIt4Ward Club created the “I Think I Can” literacy campaign and book club.  The mission of the project, which is designed for teens by fellow peers, is to foster a love of reading and raise reading comprehension skills.  “I Think I Can” serves local underprivileged youth and provides reading inspiration through rewards like pizza parties and recognition ceremonies.

Holton, Kan.—Older children connecting with their younger peers can be a great way to cultivate a love for reading.  That’s the thinking behind “Book Buddies” at Jackson Heights Middle School, a new program that will pair its students with elementary schoolchildren before regular school hours to read with them instead of just having them wait for the morning bell to ring.  Other activities of the group include writing book reviews for the local newspaper and sponsoring a “Care About Reading” series of events.

Gardner, Kan.—To foster good readers, start early!  That’s the thinking of the Johnson County After School Group, which will establish preschool and afterschool care at Madison Elementary School. The organization, consisting of 36 elementary school students ages 8 to 11, will be reading and teaching preschool students at the center. Using some Seuss magic, the students will share books, read-ins and other activities with preschoolers as part of its Read Across America Day celebration.

Covington, Ky.—The NEA Student Program at Northern Kentucky University led by Kristen Hamburg, Scott Houp and Robert Lucas has taken Thomas Edison Elementary School under their wing to cultivate young readers.  The students are connecting their campus and communities through reading rodeos, book drives, tutoring sessions, special read-ins with Seuss’ famous feline—the Cat in the Hat.

Olive Hill, Ky.—Football seniors at West Carter High School will show they got game by demonstrating the importance of reading to students at Upper Tygart Elementary School.  Knowing that athletes can connect with kids in a unique way, the high school students will host weekly read-ins designed to prove reading can be just as much fun as sports. The mentoring project will focus on boys in fourth and fifth grades after tests showed a need for reading improvement in those grades.

Boston, Mass.—Whether it’s Electric Rock, Blues Jams, or Acoustic Originals, the spoken word never sounded so good in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.  A youth group sponsored by the Asian Community Development Corporation and led by 17-year-old Terence Tran, “A-VOYCE Youth Open Mic Project” has found a way to cultivate reading enthusiasm among fellow Asian-American teens by pumping up the volume.  The group plans to organize a writing and poetry project in Chinatown to engage local teens that will culminate in an “Open Mic” event.

Elkton, Md.—Students at Elk Neck Elementary School know what a big impact they can have on their younger classmates.  That’s why “Young Readers,” a youth group consisting of three fifth graders, will lead a book club for younger boys to keep them interested in reading.  Acting as mentors to set a positive example, students will serve as reading role models for boys and girls at their school.

Ft. Washington, Md.—“Grandma’s Girls,” created and led by eighth grader Jada Scott, is a mobile book club that will travel to local adult-assisted facilities and provide special read-ins by fellow female classmates.  Sharing stories from the World’s Oldest Book, students will not only read for residents but also will improve their own reading and comprehension skills.

Benton Harbor, Mich.—A good idea is growing in the Wolverine State.  A group of eight students at Countryside Academy will launch “Ambassadors of Literacy” to work with children and families of migrant workers in their agricultural town.  The students will conduct bilingual reading workshops with the children and their families at the local Head Start program. The group also is organizing a book swap to help celebrate National Youth Service Day.

Minneapolis, Minn.—Inspired to give back to their community after watching a play about a homeless family struggling to survive, students at Barton Open School started READ (Read Engage and Achieve Your Dreams).  Beginning on Read Across America Day, 15 members of READ will work with the American Indian Community Development Corporation, which provides housing, chemical health and economic development within the Native American community, to create “write it/read it” books for moms and dads to share with their children.

Cape May Court House, N.J.—Reading never goes out of style for 11-year-old George B. Cook III, a sixth- grade student at Middle Township Middle School who created “Books and Barbershop” to help his peers look good while reading.  Connecting with a local hairdresser and friends, Cook’s literacy project will offer free haircuts to boys who finish their reading projects. 

Albuquerque, N.M.—Knowing the importance of having books and other reading materials available at home, students at the Jimmy Carter Middle School will lead a family literacy project that partners with Habitat for Humanity to provide libraries for each of 10 new homes being built in their community.

New York, N.Y.—Krystal Woodley and three of her fellow tenth graders at Frederick Douglass Academy II will organize a project that promotes leadership and reading at their high school and an adopted elementary school serving their community.  The students plan to purchase books and organize readings at their high school, beginning with Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, which helps children coping with life’s challenges through the written word.

Dickinson, N.D.—Once upon a recent time in a land not so far away, students in the Advanced Placement Literature class at Dickinson High School launched Chit Chat Lit to introduce the genre of fairy tales to local children. The group’s new program, “Bring Your Imagination to Life Through Reading,” which is led by Allison Pavilicek, Sara Becker, and Brooke Biederstedt, consists of eight group reading sessions with local elementary schools that will target these literacy activities to children in local afterschool programs.

Murrysville, Pa.—Ninth grader Megan Cala will organize a book club through East Suburban Citizen Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that supports people with developmental disabilities by finding and fostering one-to-one support for them.  Hosting regular meetings at local Barnes and Noble bookstores, the club will create culinary concoctions inspired by the tales they read.

Philadelphia, Pa.—Whether it’s Louisa May Alcott or Mark Twain that one fancies, the classics are alive, thanks to the “Cool Classics Book Club.”  Led by ninth-grade student Joy Best, the group will introduce classics like Little Women, Tom Sawyer and other timeless tales to local middle school students.  The club will read chapters from the books and engage in reading activities.

Philadelphia, Pa.—A group of middle school students at Mariana Bracetti Academy, which is located in one of North Philadelphia’s most economically and educationally disadvantaged neighborhoods, have created their own Anime Club to encourage reading through appreciation of animation.  Launched by Elisha Watkins, Andres Medina, Iyelisse Lopez and Imarliss Lopez, the group will provide a venue for students to talk about their favorite anime books and share stories while engaging their peers in a cool way to look at reading. 

Providence, R.I.—Breaking out their black ties and formal dresses, the Order of Omega Club, a social organization that recognizes fraternity men and women who have attained a high standard of leadership, will host its annual Dr. Seuss Ball and book drive. The club, located at Johnson and Wales University, transforms the auditorium into a Seuss wonderland and organizes a book donation competition among other organizations in the Greek system.  The 22-member club, led by president Michelle Santoro, also will invite children from local Rhode Island schools to the event for a read-a-thon—all in superb Seuss style!

Livingston, Texas—Members of the Onalaska High School Student Council will organize a reading scavenger hunt to locate literary treasures around their town.  To keep the reading excitement going, students will also create a book about their town.  This book will be donated to local schools and libraries while selling copies to the general public, with proceeds going to a local literacy charity.

Sandy, Utah—The therapeutic ways of the written word will benefit residents at Community Health Centers in the Greater Salt Lake metropolitan area, thanks to 17-year-old M. Scott Draper’s literary endeavor to furnish five “Reach Out and Read” centers, which serve the area’s multicultural, uninsured patients.  The cozy reading centers will feature child-sized chairs, desks, bookcases and rugs—everything to make that perfect nook to open up a favorite book.

Fredericksburg, Va.—Realizing the healing power of reading, members of the University of Mary Washington Mortar Board Honor Society will establish an ongoing book drive—calling for donations at local hospitals, thrift stores and free clinics—while hosting “read-alouds” to patients at the Hospice Support Care Center.  The chapter, whose annual theme is “Reading is Leading,” will also arrange for a pen-pal program with an orphanage in Honduras to encourage global connections through written correspondence.

Seattle, Wash.—Laura D’Asaro and Lenae Johnson, both eleventh-grade students at Nathan Hale High School, started “Audio Books for Kids,” which leads a books-to-tape program at local area high schools and middle schools.  In addition to giving sound to the written word, the program also holds book drives to fund the audio book program. 

War, W.V.—After reports revealed McDowell County has the highest illiteracy rate in West Virginia, three teenagers decided to do something to get reading back on the right track in their community.  Bartley residents Ashley Tiller, Ashley Shelton, and Amber Tiller—all volunteers for the AmeriCorps program at Big Creek People in Action Inc.—created “Young Leaders Action Council” to organize weekly reading activities at local schools throughout McDowell County.  The students also will donate books and lead reading activities, make bookmarks and share their love of reading.

Additional information on NEA’s Read Across America and Youth Leaders for Literacy is available at



The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

Contact: Staci Maiers  (202) 822-7823