Posts Tagged ‘literacy’

The New Maya Angelou Coin and Her Charities

New Year. New Currency. New Inspiration.

Today begins the wide circulation of the first of the new U.S. Mint American Women Quarters Program with the new Maya Angelou 25-cent piece. With arms outstretched in front of an uncaged, soaring bird and rays of the sun, the coin honors the legacy of Angelou. The image was designed by Emily Damstra and sculpted by Craig Campbell.

The flipside of the quarter is George Washington in a beefier version than we’ve seen before, designed by Laura Gardin Fraser.

On this day, I thought it would be interesting to poke around and find out more about the charitable work of Ms. Angelou.

“What I would really like said about me is that I dared to love. By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings.” ~Maya Angelou

The Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation shares the mission, “…to improve the quality fo life for all human beings” and the vision, “to sup[port educational excellence and healthcare equity initiatives for all.” Much of the foundation’s impact is based on scholarships to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as well as through healthcare education efforts and a Women’s Health and Wellness Center. Your charitable donations (link here) help to support these vital programs.

In addition to the foundation, other organizations and foundations carry Dr. Anegelou’s name, including The Maya Angelou Young Adult Learning Center, a program of the See Forever Foundation Maya Angelou Schools. Here is a link to explore getting involved as a volunteer in Washington D.C. mainly in the areas of mentoring and tutoring—check it out.

Oakland, California’s Maya Angelou Library and Literacy Center has volunteer opportunities to help guarantee the community has access to opportunities to train and learn and open use of resources and technology. Explore volunteer opportunities at this link.

From Baltimore M.D. Hopkins University
© copyright John Mathew Smith 2001

Even if not directly working with one of the projects in her name, perhaps today is a perfect day to honor your own spirit of connection and humanity by honoring Maya Angelou with your search for ways to be of service. Flip a shiny new quarter and call it in the air. Heads, you win, tails, you win.

“The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.”

~Maya Angelou

World Book Night–April 23–Be a Giver

Ready to do a little advance planning? Mark April 23 in your calendar. It is the date that Shakespeare died. Also Cervantes. Plus it is UNESCO’s International Day of the Book. It is also World Book Night, when tens of thousands of volunteers in the US, UK, and Ireland will go out into their communities and give away free books to celebrate literacy and the joy of reading. You can sign up to be a giver here. All you’ll need to do is pick up 20 books (no, it doesn’t cost you money) and commit to distributing them on that night–to non-readers or light readers. Pass them out on the street, in a coffee house, at the gym, at a hospital, shopping mall, train or subway, school…and they are great books (special not-for-resale World Book Night editions are donated and sponsored by publishers and booksellers). Find the list of thirty 2012 titles for the giveaway here (I’ve only read some of these–would love to read several more!)

A million best-selling books will be given away free. This is one night a year–and should, hopefully, inspire more patrons to support booksellers and libraries year ’round. Spread the passion for reading, and get some folks reading!

Room to Read–the Gift of Literacy Around the World

I hope you’re getting ready, as I am, to put on your gratitude pants (with handy elastic waist for post-prandial expansion from the Thanksgiving feast). I truly hope you and yours have much to be thankful for and are able to share the good fortune you enjoy with others who may not be as lucky.

There are so many arenas where I recognize I am so outrageously fortunate–one of them being the access to education I had when I was young. Not everyone, of course, has that, and access to education can be quite discriminatory, not only divisive along financial lines, but with heinous gender inequality as well. An educated girl is simply not as highly prized as an educated boy in many parts of the world, and 42% of girls in developing nations are not enrolled in school. Room to Read is one of many organizations trying to do something about that. Believing that world change starts with education, they work with local communities and educators in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Africa, and Zambia (with plans to move into other literacy-challenged regions) to bring hope of an education to all children, develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school. Through initiatives like “Reading Room” (building and stocking libraries–more than 10,000 so far), Local Language Publishing (giving kids access to materials in their native language), School Room (building primary and secondary school classrooms), and Girls’ Education, Room to Read is spreading the word–literally.

They have a strong devotion to supporting the communities where they work, and employing local teachers and builders/tradespeople, so they don’t have overseas volunteer opportunities–but go to the site, spin around a bit, and support the work of bringing access to education to all.

Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools

At the time of year when folks are blowing dust off their copies of “The Night Before Christmas” to read to the little tykes, there is more reading aloud going on than at any other time. Conversely, as schools are winding up the last days of classes for 2010, it is hard to reconcile the fact that kids are going through the grades, promoted each year, and coming out the other side unable to read.

BookPALS is an organization made up of professional actors who volunteer to “adopt” two classrooms in the cities where they live, and once a week, go into those classrooms and read aloud to the kids. Over 2,000 dedicated BookPALS volunteers across the nation serve more than 100,000 preschool to 5th grade students weekly by reading aloud at public schools, hospitals and cultural institutions. BookPALS is the core of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation’s Children’s Literacy Initiative, and recognizes that actors are gifted storytellers and can bring literature to life, making reading and writing and creativity exciting and cool. To volunteer as a reader, or to donate to support this great program that is thriving across the nation, visit

And when you get home tonight, if there are kids there trying to finish final projects or study for final exams before the holiday break—see how you can help.


Getting teenagers passionate about having a significant impact on the world can be a task, but it is an easier undertaking than we might think at first glance. Young people are no different than adults–we want to have purpose and we want to live in a world that is constantly improving. And we aren’t resistant to getting involved to make that happen.

buildOn is a non-profit organization working with urban high schoolers through empowering in-class and after-school programs, creating avenues for community service work within the students’ cities and neighborhoods. The WOW factor is when buildOn does it’s programs where these same high school students build schools and bring literacy to children and adults in developing countries around the world. Since 1992, buildOn volunteer students have helped build 332 schools in rural regions in Haiti, Malawi, Mali, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Senegal. There is an incredible side effect of empowering these city kids…97% of participating student volunteers have gone on to college.


That is not predictable or even rational to expect in any school district, and even less so, statistically, from urban schools.

Can you imagine the incredible world being generated by kids who would spend a spring break, summer vacation, or senior trip opportunity opening the galaxy of learning to others? I want to be part of that world.

Think about encouraging your family to dive in, supporting with a donation, or setting up your own “Ambassador Trek” that allows any age volunteers to participate. The link is here to get involved.


The world comes alive more completely and imaginatively between leaves of paper much more than on any screen. Second only to pure, user-generated imagination, the creativity to which children find access  in books is second to none—yet literacy is still a challenge. A kid who doesn’t like to read is a kid who hasn’t yet been properly introduced to reading.

BookPALS is a reading aloud program staffed by volunteers from the professional acting community via the performers’ union, the Screen Actors Guild. Professional actors adopt classrooms and visit weekly to read to kids in the kindergarten through fifth grade level. The actors get to reach out and even use some of their dialects and trained voice work, and the kids get barriers blown away as the world opens wider with the turn of each page. Over 100,000 kids are served every week through chapters in a dozen cities.There are also phone lines and websites with recorded readings so kids can access imagination any time.

BookPALS is founded on a clear premise: children must be exposed to the magic of books to develop a love of reading. Who better to make that magic come alive than actors gifted in the art of storytelling?