Fulfilling the Need to Read

The strength of a community is partly measured by the basic needs it helps provide its residents: food, shelter and schooling, among many. One need that’s often overlooked for children, and by children, is the importance of reading.

Celebrated poet Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to making reading one of his needs, is good for him.” When Laughlin, Nev., Lodge No. 2872 noticed many students in their community didn’t have access to books, they created the Read to Succeed project, funded by a $10,000 Elks National Foundation Impact Grant.

“There were students who were reluctant to read in the past and, in some cases, failing classes because they saw no value in reading,” shares Dawn Estes, principal of William G. Bennett Elementary School.

Every month, about 40 Lodge members and volunteers buy books, administer quizzes to measure students’ reading improvement and set up a pop-up store at Bennett Elementary for students to redeem points they earn from reading books to “buy” books, school supplies and more.

Since Read to Succeed began in 2016, over 360 students in kindergarten through high school have participated, and teachers and administers have seen an improvement in students’ eagerness to read, and in their grades.

“A review of student achievement data shows a positive increase in student fluency, reading comprehension and vocabulary development, and it’s my belief this growth can be contributed to the Elks’ reading program,” Estes says.

The project has motivated not only students to pick up books and a love for reading, but also 165 family members in Laughlin. Teachers have shared with the Lodge that they’ve seen students use their points to collect books they can share with their peers, as well as younger siblings and non-English speaking parents.

At the end of each month, the Lodge hosts a dinner for the students and families who participate in the program. For families in this rural area, it’s an important opportunity to connect with other parents, spend time with their children and receive a hearty meal.

“We have heard from the parents and students that the monthly rewards dinners are something they all look forward to,” says Tammy Abare, a Read to Succeed volunteer. “I am grateful for [the Elks] willingness to care for our students and for the services that [the Elks] provide.”

The project has proven to be a success for the Lodge, school, and, most importantly, the students and families in the Laughlin community. The Lodge looks forward to continuing this program.

“We have had great success, but we still have goals we want to accomplish and more students who could use the encouragement to understand they don’t have to be afraid to challenge themselves,” says Kathleen Hoss, the Impact Grant project manager.

Read to Succeed would not be possible without the Impact Grant and the dozens of volunteers who have dedicated hours to opening this door for students.

“I have seen what a difference this program makes, and we are so thankful that [the Elks] have chosen to invest in our students,” says Wendi Lytle, an Instructional Strategist at Laughlin Junior and Senior High School.

The Elks National Foundation allocated $12.53 million this year to fund the Community Investments Program. Lodges meet local needs through Beacon, Gratitude, Promise, Anniversary and Impact Grants. These grants offer Lodges opportunities to serve the community in ways that will raise the Lodge’s profile, energize the membership, encourage former members to return to the fold, and gain the notice of people who want to be part of an organization that’s doing great things. To learn more about the Community Investments Program, please visitelks.org/CIP.

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