Board Option Award-Pamela Laskin – 2023 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Pamela Laskin – “Diversity and Differently-Abled”
New York City

Pamela Laskin, author, New York City for her project, “Diversity and Differently-Abled.”  Two-time Freedom Through Literacy Award winner, Laskin has completed a series of picture books that capture the world of those who are differently-abled; in particular, those without speech, and what it means in a family.   She reads these books aloud in public school classrooms with the goal to educate a mainstream audience.  Laskin says, “books have been written about children with special needs, but what makes my project innovative and creative is that the books are written from the point of view of the young people who ARE differently-abled.”  Through her work, this diverse population will no longer be marginalized.  For her insistence in presenting differently-abled people, she is helping establish human dignity with a focus on what can be done, not what can’t, Judith’s Reading Room awards Pamela with a USD$200 Board Option Prize.

“Reading and writing are marriage partners. Literacy happens when young people are engaged on both levels.”

–  Pamela Laskin


Board Option Award-Evangelia Ritzaleou – 2023 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Evangelia Ritzaleou – “School Reading and Creative Writing Club”
Drama, Greece

Evangelia Ritzaleou, award-winning high school teacher, Drama, Greece for her project, “School Reading and Creative Writing Club.”  Evangelia knows what she is talking about when she documents the effects of book clubs on kids — she has, after all, headed up a Reading and Creative Writing Club at her school for 15 years.  Her efforts have resulted in kids feeling that they are “equal” members of a club, and with this new-found confidence, they become effective speakers, writers, critical thinkers, listeners and communicators.  Evangelia has expanded her school library from 20 books to 530 and boasts that her school library serves not only as a place for reading and writing but also as a refuge for introverted kids.

She says, “Joining a Reading and Creative Writing Club is a path from literacy to critical literacy and that lifelong readers have the culture of reading instead of being addicted to social media.”  For her passionate commitment to enriching the lives of high school children through the beauty of a book club, Judith’s Reading Room awards Evangelia a USD$200 Board Option Prize.

Reading must be seen as an engaging entertainment.”

Evangelia Ritzaleou

Board Option Award-Colin Bloom – 2023 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $200

Colin Bloom – “Creating a Library for Literacy
New York City/Mpumalanga, South Africa


Colin Bloom, 16-year-old New York City high school student and founder of a literacy nonprofit for his project, “Creating a Library for Literacy at the Senianya Primary School in Mpumalanga, South Africa.”  Colin is a standout on multiple levels:  as a teenager, he established a nonprofit, Libraries for Literacy, has dedicated two libraries in impoverished rural South Africa, has assertively insinuated himself into partnerships with global entities, and has shown tenacity, drive, entrepreneurship, compassion and a desire to learn and improve from each experience.  As Colin points out, “Learning to read without books is like learning to play soccer without a ball, impossible but relevant to many South African kids who are expected to become literate without access to books.”  For his spirited determination to use his life to work towards the goal in which all children have access to a good education, Judith’s Reading Room awards Colin with a USD$200 Board Option Prize.

“Learning to read without books is like learning to play soccer without a ball.

Colin Bloom

Update’s From Colin!

April 28, 2023

A big thank you to you and Judith’s Reading Room for their generous support of Libraries for Literacy. I included pictures of the two library openings, stocked with English, Sepedi and Xitsonga books for the kids.

Board Option Award-Victor Owuor – 2023 Freedom Through Literacy

Board Option Award – $400

Victor Owuor –  “Pathway to Alternative Learning Education (PALE)”
Nairobi, Kenya

Victor Owuor, after-school program coordinator, the Sunflower Trust, Nairobi, Kenya for his project, “Pathway to Alternative Learning Education (PALE).”  As World Literacy Ambassador since 2022 representing Kenya, Victor understands what it means when one lacks resources to attend school:  He was born and bred in the informal settlement of Kibera slum, Nairobi.  Sunflower Trust works in partnership with community schools to identify girls, in the fifth grade, who are at risk of ending their education early and transitions them to the after-school, part-time PALE program.  At PALE, literacy groups help the girls develop critical thinking, communication and reasoning skills.  Sunflower is also committed to involving parents and caregivers through focus groups and one-on-one meetings.   The girls are challenged to write their own books which has encouraged them to read a variety of books to borrow ideas for their own stories.  “Literacy as leadership and a form of justice is at the core of our programming,” said Owuor.  He added, “while there are many literate youths in the world, there are few who are truly freely literate — whose voices are heard, whose opinions and beliefs are listened to and honored, and who have the ability to fully express themselves and be who they want to be.”  For his dedication to changing lives one at a time, Judith’s Reading Room awards Victor with a USD$400 Board Option Prize.

“Free literacy is not simply the ability to read and write fluently but the ability to freely express oneself.”      
– Victor Owuor

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
  • Donate Now

    We ask that you please make a donation to Judith’s Reading Room, in support of our ongoing recognition of what is being accomplished in the great world of literacy, as well as funding our shipment of children’s books, both domestically and internationally.