Prior to founding Reading Village, Linda’s professional career included teaching public school, creating and running a fair trade business with Guatemalan weavers, managing a public health research team, leading the rapid growth of a solar energy corporation as its COO, and promoting environmental sustainability through community activism and education. During those years she earned an MBA and an MA in Latin American Studies, and she made a promise to herself that she’d one day do something more for some of the 2 billion people on the planet who lived in extreme poverty. She made good on that promise in 2006 when, at a crossroads in her life, she envisioned an organization that would expose some of the poorest and least literate children in the Western Hemisphere to the joy and power of reading – giving them the tools to make a better life for themselves.
Addressing the primary barrier to literacy – lack of access to books – Reading Village began in 2007 by bringing donations of books to low-resource communities. Interested in expanding and deepening our impact, we designed our Leaders and Readers Program that leverages youth leadership, education and literacy to impact a larger population in a much more significant way. After implementation, reflection and modification – a continual process – we are proud to have refined a model that changes the lives of students, families, and entire communities to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
What started with six youth leaders reading to a couple hundred children has grown to include over 100 teens and alumni, thousands of children and five incredible communities. More important than numbers is the systemic and self-perpetuating change that has been set into motion. Children in the Leaders and Readers Program have higher than average reading comprehension scores and have developed critical and creative thinking skills not taught in schools. And now, in our tenth year, children from the program are stepping into the shoes of the teens who once read to them. Teens in the program find their voice, self-esteem and develop leadership skills as they read to the children and participate in our leadership development workshops. They take on community improvement projects, graduate high school and join our growing numbers of alumni who are competing for jobs that can double their family incomes, continuing their studies at university and starting families in which education and literacy are the norm. Having achieved this level of success we have now set our sites on partnering with 40 communities by 2020.