An Amazing Update From Writing Through

Cathy Leiber recently spoke with Sue Guiney, a Runner-up Prize Winner in 2016, we still find it amazing on how our recognition matters for others “fighting” the battle of literacy all over the world.  Here is an update from Sue.

Four years in a life doesn’t seem like much. But in the lifetime of a non-profit, it can mean the difference between broken dreams and expanding horizons. In 2016, I was honored to receive a Judith’s Reading Room award for the work I had begun with my newly founded NGO, Writing Through. Still in our infancy, we were testing and developing our programs in Cambodia, using the writing of poems and stories to develop literacy and self-esteem in that tragic nation. At that time, I was full of dreams for growing my organization, but “the how” was still a mystery.

Much has happened over the past four years. Between 2016 and 2019, Writing Through expanded to include working with over twenty organizations throughout Cambodia, and then into Singapore, and then Vietnam. We were reaching hundreds of students, young adults and adults alike, throughout the region with a staff of 1.5 and nearly 50 volunteers. Plus, I had realized that the workshops we were running were accomplishing even more than literacy and self-esteem. It became clear to us all that Writing Through was actually using creative writing as a tool to develop thinking skills. Once our triumvirate of goals became clearer – Thinking Skills, Language Fluency, and Self-Esteem via Creative Writing – the demand for our programming grew, and so did our staff. There are now 3 of us who oversee it all, always also relying on our ever-growing global list of volunteers.

On a personal note, after living in London for 26 years, I repatriated back to the United States. The plan was to visit SE Asia twice a year and work remotely the rest of the time as CEO. During the first two years of moving back, that is exactly what I did. Then came 2020 and the pandemic.

We did not allow these troubled times defeat us, though. Actually, we used the skills we had been teaching to imagine new ways to deliver our programming, and we realized that CoVid and the necessity for online learning was, for us, an opportunity. Over this past spring and summer, we developed an online platform for our workshops. This immediately allowed us to reach people around the globe in a way we never could have imagined. A series of free, public workshops saw Zoom screens full of people from as far away as Mexico, to India, to Cambodia, to the US and Canada. And as our partners started needing online lessons, we were there to provide them. Because of online programming, we have not only further expanded our list of partners in SE Asia, but we have also begun US pilot programs in Pennsylvania, California and Massachusetts. And more is on the horizon.

The encouragement I received early on from Judith’s Reading Room helped me believe I was on the right track. It helped me believe that I could accomplish my goals and that there were many others in the world waiting to work with me. Through Writing Through, I have been able to prove what I have always known in my heart, namely that the arts, and especially the language arts, teach people how to think. Everyone in the world has the right to literacy of language and thought. Whether in person or online, Writing Through now helps marginalized and at-risk populations throughout the world learn these skills, wherever we are needed.

Sue Guiney, Founder and CEO

Also see  2016 Freedom Through Literacy Runner-Ups

2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award Flyer

Spread the word about Judith’s Reading Room’s 2019 Freedom Through Literacy Award by sharing and posting our flyer. Please download the flyer to print

The 5th annual Judith’s Reading Room “Freedom Through Literacy” Award will honor individual champions of literacy from all disciplines around the world — teachers, librarians, authors, researchers, educators — anyone who has done exemplary work to instill in others a love of reading.

GRAND PRIZE – 2018 Freedom Through Literacy

Grand Prize $3,000

Matthew Weimann and Julia Dweck
“Release Your Fireflies” — Macungie, Pa

Matthew Weinmann, Ibiyinka Alao and Julia Dweck

Matthew Weinmann and Julia Dweck (shown here with Ibiyinka Alao)

“Release Your Fireflies” is best described as a storytelling-movement. Matthew Weimann and Julia Dweck, two ‘stellar’ teachers according to their principal, inspired their students in grades 3-5 to interpret Ibi’s true story. The children wrote an award winning picture book entitled, “Ibi’s Fireflies,” published by Scholastic. The goal of “Release Your Fireflies” is to equip children to navigate the world through storytelling, paving the way for an appreciation of human literature. Matt and Julia’s project promotes storytelling inside and outside the classroom — nurturing literacy skills, creative thinking, communication, empathy, increased confidence and self-esteem. The duo, described as “true pioneers in the pursuit of a global classroom of storytellers,” created a website where teachers can access a library of storytelling curriculum that encourages children to share their stories and reflect on them through prompts and questions. “Ibi’s Fireflies,” is under consideration by producer Tim Burton, as a full-length animated feature.

UN Art Ambassador Ibiyinka Alao’s true life story provided the inspiration for the project.

Julia Dweck — “Nelson Mandela once said, ‘That we are only people, because of the people.’  This is the spirit of ubuntu embodied in the Freedom Through Literacy Award.  Our mission to share stories is a natural extension of this philosophy.  After all, a story is only a story when there is someone there to listen.”

Matthew Weimann —“We are super excited to share this project with the world and help students learn and practice great story-telling. This prize will help us achieve our dreams of connecting with teachers and students from all walks of like and roads in distant lands.”

JUDITH’S AWARD – 2018 Freedom Through Literacy

Judith’s Award $500

Carin Mileshosky
“FleetwoodSUMMER 2018”— Fleetwood, Pa


 Carin Mileshosky

Carin Mileshosky

Fleetwood Area Public Librarian Carin Mileshosky is the driving force behind this community’s effort to counter-attack the syndrome known as ‘summer slide’ where students can lose up to 2 months of learning, adding up to a full year behind grade level by the time they reach 5th grade. Carin constantly champions the fact that a public library has an important role to play in the community. This summer her initiatives attracted over 180 patrons by offering quality service, information and new technology while promoting an early and lifelong love of learning. It is no wonder that the Fleetwood Library earned the PA FORWARD Library Association’s “Gold Star Library” designation. Carin is committed to providing her community with resources, programs, and opportunities to grow as readers — to be inspired, curious and to become successful lifelong learners. She believes that by promoting all facets of literacy, she can provide her patrons the freedom to become whom they want to be and to help make their dreams a reality.

Carin Mileshosky — “After graduating from college in 1999, I did not immediately set out to become a Librarian. It was a gradual realization that came about after many years of searching for what I wanted to be when I grew up. Once I finally began my career in the library world, it seemed such an easy decision and I still often wonder what took me so long. The title of this award speaks directly to my mission as a Librarian.”

BOARD OPTIONS – 2018 Freedom Through Literacy

2018 Board Option $300

Christopher Dew
“Mini-Library for Lehigh Valley H.O.P.E.”— Easton, Pa

Christopher Dew

Christopher Dew

Christopher established his library at Lehigh Valley H.O.P.E., an organization that provides clothes and household goods to the homeless. He did this as his Boy Scout’s of America Eagle Project, making him the youngest recipient of a Judith’s Reading Room Freedom Through Literacy Award. Under his leadership, Chris collaborated with other Boy Scouts to build and stain bookcases. He organized a book drive that resulted in the collection of over 600 books. Finally, he obtained furniture and a rug to turn his mini-library into a comfortable reading area. Christopher acknowledges that when you have nothing, the focus is on clothes, food — the basics. For some, books are generally not thought of as a basic need. He disagrees. Chris believes that while literacy is the foundation for education, access is the key element for literacy. Homeless families, whose needs are so great, also need to have access to books, especially children’s books so that they can expand their imagination and see what the world has to offer.

Christopher Dew — “While literacy is the foundation for education, access is the key element for literacy. Literacy is 100% dependent on having access to any kind of reading material. When I found out I was being recognized by Judith’s Reading Room, I was so shocked that I was actually speechless. I’m not even sure how I responded because I really couldn’t believe it.”

2018 Board Option $300

Ana Ramirez Luhrs
“The Leadership Center Library”— Zambrano, Honduras

Ana Ramirez Luhrs

Ana Ramirez Luhrs

Lafayette College Skillman Librarian, Ana Luhrs, recently led a group of students to The Leadership Center (TLC) to Zambrano, Honduras to work side-by-side with 25 hand-picked young women eager to develop business and leadership skills. The goal of TLC is to educate, train and develop a new generation of female leaders by providing English immersion, business seminars and leadership training. Nominated by teachers, pastors, community leaders and government officials, this elite group of women, ranging in age from 18-29, watched as Ana curated the fledgling library and learned the importance of creating a culture of reading for pleasure. During Ana’s tenure at TLC, she noticed the gaps in genres that she felt would enhance the students’ experience. Ana has been selected to lead another group of Lafayette College students to TLC in January 2019 where they will hand-carry books to establish the 97th Judith’s Reading Room library in our organization’s 20th country!

Ana Luhrs — “Judith Krug fervently believed in the power of books and their ability to transform lives. With this award, I am honored to carry this message back to the young women leaders of The Leadership Center who are transforming their lives and their communities through education.”

2018 Board Option $200

Cheryl Stoner-Gutshall
“Outdoor Education Book” — York, Pa

Cheryl, an 18-year veteran fifth grade science and social studies teacher, is also responsible for the Dover School District’s common core standards for non-fiction. Brilliantly dovetailing these two responsibilities into the “Outdoor Education Book,”she teaches every 5th grader in the district how to write and publish non-fiction e-books using I-Pads. The outdoor education program covers such diverse topics as stream and pollinator studies, vermi-composting and waste water treatment. Using the Book Creator app, students use their notes, photos and videos to compose a book (see above) about their 2 1/2 day outdoor education adventure. Books are then posted on a digital portfolio, shared district-wide. The book is the culmination of all that the students have learned about non-fiction writing.

Cheryl Stoner-Gutshall — “It is very exciting to have the Outdoor Education of Dover School District recognized by this global non-profit organization. I have always known that the Outdoor Education program was special, but now I know others do too.”

2018 Board Option $200

Marsha Townsend
“Bringing Up a Bookworm”— Leesport, Pa

 Marsha Townsend (left)

Marsha Townsend (left)

“Bringing Up a Bookworm,” a nonprofit initiative by 4th grade teacher Marsha Townsend, educates expectant parents about the value of reading aloud to their child even before he/she is born! Marsha and friends fill literacy-rich gift bags and deliver them to obstetricians’ offices. The doctors and nurses — wholeheartedly trusted by parents-to-be — hand the bags to their patients along with supportive ideas about the importance of reading to their babies and children. The gift bag contains a copy of Reading Magic: How Reading Aloud to Our Children will Change their Lives; a children’s board book and information about the Berks County Library system. Marsha champions the need to read aloud to newborns, infants and toddlers. She acknowledges that read-aloud time provides the basics of how a book works, the language of books, an abundance of vocabulary and bonding time with parents.

Marsha Townsend — “Both the skills for reading and the love of reading can start to develop at birth.”

GRAND PRIZE WINNER- 2017 Freedom Through Literacy Award

National Book Foundation, New York, for their 10 year old literacy project titled, “BookUp.” BookUp is a reading program that serves more than 500 middle school aged children, older teens and young adults, led by published writers in four states. Students discuss quality literature in a book club format, go on field trips to cultural institutions and receive free books to build their home libraries. The Grand Prize award is valued at $3,000.  Visit National Book Foundation

RUNNER UP – 2017 Freedom Through Literacy Award

William Whipple, Easton, Pa, will receive $1,000 for his passionate work with TEACH Rwanda and its project called, “Stories in Kinyarwanda.” Children’s literature in Rwanda is an emerging endeavor and TEACH Rwanda is determined to improve the quality and accessibility of culturally genuine, captivating Rwandan literature for young children. TEACH Rwanda was also a Runner-Up in 2016. Visit Teach Rwanda

HONORABLE MENTION – 2017 Freedom Through Literacy Award

This year’s Honorable Mention is awarded to The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, Mexico. Founded in 2003, this grassroots nonprofit promotes the “love of reading” and bringing literacy to communities without the means or access to books given their high cost and limited availability in Mexico. To support their children’s library, Judith’s Reading Room will purchase $500 worth of new books. Visit The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, Mexico

Dear Cathy,

On behalf of the Palapa Society of Todos Santos, I wanted to let you know that your generous check and beautiful certificate from Judith’s Reading Room were received today. I am leaving for Todos Santos in 2 weeks so the check will be deposited in about three weeks when I arrive.

We are thrilled with the recognition and will use the funds wisely to purchase children’s books (as indicated) and continue the work of literacy in Todos Santos.

Thank you again for this honor.

Kathy Warnert
Palapa Society of Todos Santos

Dear Ms Leiber,

On behalf of The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, we were delighted to learn of the Honorable mention for the 2017 Freedom Through Literacy Award. This is a great honor and will inspire the many people who work hard to foster bilingual literacy in the greater Todos Santos area.

Please accept our gratitude. We recognize that literacy is the key to future opportunities and we sincerely appreciate this recognition from your organization. We plan to share this news with the students, families, and teacher who will be proud of their achievements.

Kathy Warnert
Palapa Society of Todos Santos

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