CONTACT: Cathy Leiber
2022 Freedom Through Literacy Awards Announced
Jamaica, NY Educator and a Municipal Librarian in Romania Captured Top Awards
July 22, 2022 — Judith’s Reading Room, a 501 (c) 3 literacy nonprofit organization, established in 2010 in the memory of Judith F. Krug, announces the winners of its annual Freedom Through Literacy Award.
“Applications this year were among the most competitive, global and creative since the Freedom Through Literacy Award was inaugurated in 2015,” stated Cathy Leiber, President, Judith’s Reading Room. The predominant theme of this year’s applications was: to increase book and literacy access to underserved and marginalized populations.
2022 Grand Prize Winner
Faola Fair (she/they), New York City high school teacher, Grand Prize Winner, 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award. Fair, a 23-year-old educator and community organizer from Jamaica, New York dominated the field of applicants with her multi-dimensional literacy initiative, “The Reading for Black Lives Project,” garnering the $2,500 top prize award.
Fair is a graduate of Lafayette College and Columbia University’s Teachers College. The aim of the “Reading for Black Lives Project” is to provide sustainable access to free books and literary resources by Black, Indigenous and people of color ((B)IPOC authors for (B)IPOC communities, specifically highlighting and centering the history and knowledge of Black people across the diaspora. Fair’s efforts uplift the community through literacy and eliminate the barriers to access for books by marginalized authors in a way that is both novel and sustainable including book pop-ups that offer free books to the community, the Black Book Fund that supports Black-owned bookstores and the Queens Free Book Fair for All. “Literacy is an essential aspect of social change and liberation,” said Fair.
2022 Judith’s Award Winner
Ms. Dominique Zara, municipal librarian, Resita, Romania wins the 2022 Freedom Through Literacy “Judith’s Award.” Zara, a 20-year career Resita Municipal Librarian, wins the coveted Judith’s Award and a cash prize of $1,500.
The Judith’s Award is named in the memory of Judith F. Krug, a librarian and first cousin to the organization’s founders. Zara’s project, “Ready for Life” offers free English classes for children 3-14 years old who do not attend school, children from socially vulnerable families and Roma children. Zara is credited with building the only English learning program in Romania among less fortunate children. In 2014, with the help of Judith’s Reading Room, she established five Judith’s Reading Room libraries serving 70,000 residents. Three of those libraries survive to this day. She says, “my goal is to demonstrate that a library is an indispensable asset in a city and that librarians can do great things for all citizens.”
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.
2022 Board Option Award Winners
Dr. Lisette Caesar, past principal and founder of Mosaic Preparatory Academy, East Harlem, NY. Caesar, a Judith’s Reading Room Honorable Mention awardee in 2021, is recognized for her unrelenting optimism and passion to build a reading culture at her Title 1 school that serves a large population living in temporary housing. 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 brainchild, the “Book Vending Machine” project has been shared with at least five other principals. In recognition of Dr. Lisette’s devotion as founder and principal of Mosaic Preparatory Academy, where the youngest of scholars are prepared for college, Caesar wins a 2022 Board Option Award in the amount of $200.
Ms. Lisa Gerard, founder, Little Read Wagon, Norman, Oklahoma. For the 2nd year in a row, Gerard is named a Board Option Award winner. As founder of “Little Read Wagon,” Gerard is recognized for her work to close the literacy gap in her community by distributing free books through multiple, creative outreach programs in Oklahoma. No place is off base for Gerard: she offers free books at community free events, establishes “libraries” in laundromats and hides books in 65 public parks. Gerard wins a 2022 Board Option Award in the amount of $200 for her commitment to meet the literacy needs of all who will benefit from book ownership and to increase the number of literate community citizens in Oklahoma.
Ms. Pamela Laskin, poet, author, lecturer, and director of New York City’s 50-year-old Poetry Outreach Center. Laskin’s work with Poetry Outreach is distinctive: MFA students are sent into under-served communities in NYC in order to write and publish poetry. A new initiative, “Poetry at the Border,” will encourage children whose families are seeking asylum to write poetry about their experience. In this manner, she helps children deal with trauma following horrible events like hurricanes (Puerto Rico), children who are escaping atrocities (Honduras, Nicaragua and Myanmar), and children who are surviving life while housed in camps at the border. For her work to enable children to unload their grief and to empower marginalized voices through poetry, Laskin wins a 2022 Board Option Award in the amount of $200.
Ms. Lisa Tedeschi Vergara, nonprofit founder, Storytime Crafts, Needham, MA. Vergara’s “Literacy Through Art of the Book” illustrates the power of literacy through art. Her beautifully crafted decoupage book-themed chairs (that are commissioned for public spaces) spread the joy of reading in a unique way. Vergara understands that art engages children in a similar way to reading: both require concentration, focus, observation of details and thoughtful conclusions. Her chairs draw the attention of children, who “read” a story emblazoned on the chair, while crawling around the chair and sitting in it. “The foundation of early literacy is instilling a love of reading so children gain the confidence to reach their full potential, achieve one’s dreams and become powerful thinkers,” states Vergara. For her joyous and creative approach to getting children to see a book in a new way, Vergara wins a 2022 Board Option Award in the amount of $200.
Ms. Jennifer Williams, founder “Second Chance Book Club” at Danville City Jail, Danville, VA., former teacher and guardian of 40 Little Free Libraries. In 2019, Williams founded the“Second Chance Book Club” for incarcerated women at the Danville City Jail. Under Williams’ leadership, 124 inmates (and counting) have read and discussed 71 books, including favorites like The Life We Bury, Where the Crawdads Sing, and Monday’s Not Coming. Her commitment to inmates continues after they are released with “Second Chance Freedom,” a book group that meets once a month for dinner. Williams set an ambitious goal in 2017 to get one million books into the hands of people in need. For her determination to encourage a love of reading and for her enduring commitment to female inmates and formerly incarcerated women, Williams wins a 2022 Board Option Award in the amount of $200.
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.
2022 Honorable Mentions
Mr. Toti Jean Marc Yale, CEO and founder of nonprofit Education and English for You, “Reading First,” Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Yale’s project, “Reading First” promotes free book giveaways and reading of quality literacy starting with toddlers from disadvantaged family backgrounds. The organization promotes gender equality and English on a voluntary basis. For Yale’s outreach to international organizations and programs to help eradicate illiteracy in his West African nation, Judith’s Reading Room, through the 2022 Honorable Mention designation, wishes to give Yale global recognition and encouragement.
Ms. Anita Jo Paukovits, Executive Director, Children’s Home of Easton (CHE), Easton, PA. CHE, a “home away from home” has served neglected, traumatized, and abused youth throughout the state of PA since 1885. In 2012, in collaboration with Judith’s Reading Room, CHE staff member Marlene Arnholt, established a monthly Book Group,“The Children’s Home of Easton Book Club for At-Risk Youth” that brings residents together to “get lost” in the world of reading and imagination. Judith’s Reading Room honors Marlene and her colleagues at CHE for maintaining a selection of over 4,000 books that help make CHE a ‘home’ for these youth. In their honor, Paukovits and Arnholt are designated a 2022 Honorable Mention.
The 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award winners will be acknowledged at an invitation-only ZOOM Award Celebration on Sunday, September 18th.
Judith’s Reading Room’s mission is to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging Freedom Through Literacy. To date, the organization has fulfilled that mission by establishing 103 libraries (and counting!) in 22 countries with 131,000 books worth over $1.4 million.
The Freedom Through Literacy Award was initiated in 2015 as the organization’s signature event. Including the 2022 winners, the organization will have disbursed $48,500 in cash awards to 47 champions of literacy. Winners hail from 14 countries: Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cyprus, Greece, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, the U.S.A. and Zimbabwe. Winners from the U.S.A. come from 9 states: Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
To learn more about Judith’s Reading Room, visit the website at www.judithsreadingroom.org. Applications for the 2023 Freedom Through Literacy Award will be posted January 2023.