Board Option Award-Dr. Lisette Caesar-2022 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Dr. Lisette Caesar – “Book Vending Machine”

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.

Board Option Award-Lisa Tedeschi Vergara-2022 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Lisa Tedeschi Vergara – “Literacy Through Art of the Book”

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-Jennifer Williams-2022 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Jennifer Williams – “Second Chance Book Club”

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-Pamela Laskin-2022 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Pamela Laskin – “Poetry at the Border”

Pamela Laskin, a lecturer at City College, established “Poetry at the Border” to encourage children whose families are seeking asylum to write poetry about their experiences. Poetry enables children to understand 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 voices through poetry, we honor Laskin with a 2022 Board Option Award.


“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

Board Option Award-Lisa Gerard-2022 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Lisa Gerard – “Little Read Wagon”

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

Honorable Mentions-2022 Freedom Through Literacy

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”

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”

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.
“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

Board Option Award-Sue Goatley-2021 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $400

Sue Goatley – “Jabulani Community Literacy Programme”

Often times, a student without the proper support early in their schooling, may struggle to obtain the foundational literacy skills to advance their formal education. Sue Goatley, with her organization Children in the Wilderness, established an after school community literacy program for teenagers to change that outcome in the rural Zambezi region. We honor Sue with a Board Option Award to support her efforts in bringing essential reading skills to Zimbabwean youth.

“We look forward to adding vital literary resources to the library. The addition of books both from an adult literacy and locally relevant perspective will create long lasting impacts for this group that will be felt for years to come.” – Sue Goatley

Board Option Award-Derek Witmer-2021 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $300

Derek Witmer – “Diversity and Inclusion Library”

Second grade teacher Derek Witmer’s care and attention for honoring his students and their experiences has led to the creation of a curated library of books addressing important topics such as general diversity, acceptance, gender identity,and familial make ups. In recognition of his compassion, we award Derek with a Board Option Award

“Literature has the power to change the world, and I’m glad to be able to have an impact on the upcoming generations.” – Derek Witmer




Board Option Award-Lisa Gerard-2021 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $300

Lisa Gerard – “Little Read Wagon”

Tackling communities with “book deserts” in the town of Norman,Oklahoma, Lisa Gerard began a mini library at a local laundromat in 2020. From there, the reading ball started rolling!Since that laundromat library, Lisa has added a lending library and a volunteer program in order to collect and distribute culturally relevant books at community events. In just one year,Lisa has distributed more than 10,000 books to children and adults. We proudly award Lisa a Board Option Award to celebrate her work towards building a reading community.

This outreach program engages and inspires a great love for reading with a passionate ambition.” – Lisa Gerard

Honorable Mentions-2021 Freedom Through Literacy

Honorable Mentions

Lisette Caesar – “Mirroring Our Kids
EAST HARLEM, NEW YORKLisette’s steadfast efforts to create libraries that reflect her students
and their lives earns
her an Honorable Mention.

CBS NY clip on Lisette Caesar’s “brainchild” Book Vending Machine at Mosaic Prep Academy in NY

Simon Ke – “Mobile Library Project”

We honor Simon Ke and the Mobile Library Project at Anjali House for reaching
over 850 children in
Siem Reap with an Honorable Mention.

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