2022 FREEDOM THROUGH LITERACY AWARDS
Jamaica, NY Educator and a Municipal Librarian in Romania Captured Top Awards
Grand Prize Award – $2,500
Fayola Fair – “Reading for Black Lives Project” JAMAICA, QUEENS, NEW YORK
“Literacy is an essential aspect of social change and liberation.” So declares 24-year-old Fayola Fair, educator, community organizer, and our 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Grand Prize Winner.
Fair’s “Reading for Black Lives Project” aims to promote this belief by providing sustainable access to free books and literacy resources by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) for their communities in and outside New York City. Her efforts include organizing pop-up book fairs to funding books by Black authors to hosting an annual Free Book Fair in Queens. An essential element running through them all is access, relevance, and inclusion for communities who historically have not seen their lives and stories represented in books.
The “Reading Through Black Lives Project” has already distributed over 1,000 books and supported over 26 Black-owned bookstores, even earning a 2021 NYC Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Community Service. We are honored to contribute to Fair’s tireless commitment to her community with the 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Grand Prize.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to continue providing free books and literary resources to my community. Receiving the Grand Prize for the 2022 Freedom through Literacy Award allows me to expand this work and continue to reimagine the impact of the Reading for Black Lives Project on BIPOC communities across NYC and beyond. Overall, working to support our learning to sustain our liberation.” – Fayola Fair
“Judith’s Award” awarded to the champion of literacy teacher, librarian or author
Judith’s Award – $1,500
Dominique Zara – “Ready for Life” RESITA, ROMANIA
If you meet librarian Dominique Zara, winner of our 2022 Judith’s Award, you will marvel at her humility and enthusiasm. Committed to supporting the more vulnerable members of her community, she is credited with building the only English learning program at her library in Romania. More than 270 children have benefited from the engaging, creative library activities she’s organized and even more children have borrowed books to enjoy at home. And yet, ask Zara about her work, and she’d admit, “I wasn’t convinced that my actions [were] worthy of such an award.”
We are thrilled to change her mind by recognizing Dominique Zara as winner of the 2022 Judith’s Award for her investment in the education and lives of socially vulnerable families and Roma children. Her library programs have brought out smiles and laughter of Resita’s young children and continues to lift the English and Roma skills of its community. We believe that is definitely worth celebrating.
“The Librarian who wanted to become a police officer …. In the last year, I understood that my job is just as important as the job of a doctor, teacher, firefighter or policeman. I understood that we too, the librarians, can save souls, or even more correctly, we can fulfill dreams. Whether we are talking about a child’s dream, the farmer’s dream or any library user. But, being named the 2022 Judith’s Award winner … it totally overwhelms me. In my 21 years as a librarian, this is the first recognition of my efforts for literacy.” – Dominique Zara
2022 Board Option prizes:
The next level of awards is completely at the discretion of Judith’s Reading Room Board Members. Each year a total of $1,000 — to be divided depending on the number of high-scoring applicants — is set aside for Board Option Awards.. The winners of the 2022 Board Option Award are:
A Judith’s Reading Room Honorable Mention awardee in 2021, Lisette Caesar is recognized with a Board Option Award for her unrelenting optimism and passion to build a reading culture during her tenure as principal at Mosaic Prep Academy. Her newsworthy project, “Book Vending Machine,” capitalizes on a reward system to honor good citizenship with tokens that are used to “purchase” a new book, much like one would purchase a candy bar out of a vending machine. Her incredible and inspiring project has been shared with at least five other principals and we are sure to see its impact grow.
“Literacy breaks down the barriers that poverty builds. My goal is to create literate communities so that all children have a chance at success.” – Dr. Lisette Caesar
Board Option Award – $200
Lisa Tedeschi Vergara – “Literacy Through Art of the Book” NEEDHAM, MASSACHUSETTS
Walk into a place that Lisa Tedeschi Vergara’s work has touched, and you’ll understand why we have given her a Board Option Award. Her beautifully crafted decoupage book-themed chairs, commissioned for public spaces, give children the chance to “read” the story emblazoned on the chair while they crawl around and sit on it. Nearly 40 chairs have brought joy to communities across the state of Massachusetts, and we celebrate Vergara’s unique spin on promoting literacy.
“It is an honor to be named a 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Board Option Award winner. Through my literacy work I am able to provide learning lifelines and resources to children and families who need them the most. The grassroots nature of my work generates dependable and adaptable services for community advancement.” – Lisa Tedeschi Vergara
Board Option Award – $200
Jennifer Williams – “Second Chance Book Club” DANVILLE, VIRGINIA
Back in 2019, Jennifer Williams founded the Second Chance Book Club with the goal of spreading the love of reading and getting books into the hands of people in need; in this case, incarcerated women at the Danville City Jail. Since starting the book club, 128 inmates have read and discussed 75 books as of August 2022. We recognize Williams’ selfless determination and outreach to provide these inmates insight into another world of hope and beauty with a 2022 Board Option Award.
“Giving books away has brought great joy. Watching a reader choose something appealing is a happy moment that very little compares to in my life.” – Jennifer Williams
Board Option Award – $200
Pamela Laskin – “Poetry at the Border” NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
“Your silence will not protect you.”; Audre Lorde. “Thank you, Cathy Leiber, on behalf of Judith’s Room, and also thank you to the board for awarding me the Board Option award for my work engaging children, at the border and the Ukraine, in the art and craft of writing poetry. This significant literacy work will help give poetic voice to children in refugee camps and children in the Ukraine (a war-torn country). Poetry Outreach is grateful to expand literacy and also hope-through poetry–to children facing these challenges.” – Pamela Laskin
- In the news – Award-winning CCNY Poetry Outreach Center director Pamela Laskin wins prestigious award
Board Option Award – $200
Lisa Gerard – “Little Read Wagon” NORMAN, OKLAHOMA
No matter where you look in Norman, Oklahoma, you’re likely to find Lisa Gerard and her Little Read Wagon. Gerard has offered free books at community free events, establishes “libraries” in laundromats and hides books in 65 public parks. For her efforts, we name Lisa as a Board Option Award winner to celebrate her work towards building Norman into a reading community.
“This year, Little Read Wagon adopted the hashtag #communitythroughbooks. This is a perfect description of our work in three words. It is the connections we make with people when we share books and stories with them that fuel our work with literacy. Winning a Board Option Award from Judith’s Reading Room for the second year in a row increases our visibility in the community, gets more books to kids and inspires us by making us aware of other winning literacy projects around the world.” – Lisa Gerard
2022 Honorable Mentions
Finally, Honorable Mention Awards (no cash award) are given to those applicants who the judges want to acknowledge and think deserve encouragement. The idea behind the Honorable Mention Awards is to propel the applicants to continue their literacy efforts and to apply for future Freedom Through Literacy Awards.
Toti Jean Marc Yale – “Reading First” ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST
For Yale’s outreach to help eradicate illiteracy in his West African nation, we wish to give him global recognition and encouragement through an Honorable Mention.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Lacking basic reading and writing skills is a tremendous disadvantage. Literacy not only enriches an individual’s life, but it creates opportunities for people to develop skills that will help them provide for themselves and their family. Thank you very much, Judith’s Reading Room, for the good job you are doing across the world that is transforming the life of many kids through their reading skill development.” – Toti Jean Marc Yale
Children’s Home of Easton – “Book Club for At-Risk Youth” EASTON, PENNSYLVANIA
We honor Marlene Arnholt with an Honorable Mention for maintaining Children’s Home of Easton’s selection of over 4,000 books and a monthly Book Club that help make a “home” for traumatized youth.
The 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award winners were acknowledged at a ZOOM Award Celebration on Sunday, September 18th. Here is the recorded video. Please forgive the approximate 30 second technical difficulties during the honorable award winner Marlene Arnholt.“Providing a love match between readers and books has been my preoccupation and passion since my involvement with the residents at The Children’s Home of Easton began many years ago. Our basic premise is simple: make books of different genres, subjects and popularity easily accessible to every resident and make certain they know there are many more books than are actually displayed. Then, find a way to build on those interests through introductions to like-minded readers. At that point … the sky is truly the limit!” …Marlene Arnholt