Honorable Mentions-2023 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.

Cynthia Jacobsen, Ph.D. – “Rhyming to Reading:  Early Literacy Curriculum”
Longmont, Colorado

Cynthia Jacobsen, Ph.D. Speech Pathologist and Researcher, Longmont, Colorado for her life-work project, “Rhyming to Reading:  Early Literacy Curriculum.”  Dr. Jacobsen, co-authored Rhyming to Reading, an early literacy program for children 4-7 whose goal was to create a program to help young children learn skills that are highly predictive of early reading success. Thousands of children participated in the group classes at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics for 20 years prior to the COVID pandemic.  Dr. Jacobsen collected evidenced based outcomes and clinical data to develop the program.    She says, “Literacy instruction must be evidenced-based, with methods which are known to help children.”  For her life-time devotion to helping children and families learn methods to overcome literacy challenges such as dyslexia, Judith’s Reading Room wishes to give Dr. Jacobsen global recognition through an Honorable Mention.

“Literacy involves the entire family. When families know how to model early literacy skills in a fun and multi-sensory manner, children experience success.”

Cynthia Jacobsen

Joseph Tsongo – “Amani Academy for Peace Literacy”
Goma, North-Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Joseph Tsongo, Coordinator, Amani Academy, Goma, North-Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for his project, “Amani Academy for Peace Literacy.”  Born in the middle of war in 1994 in the province of North Kivu, Joseph challenged himself to inspire young people to rebuild, despite the traumatic ordeals they were facing on a daily basis.  Since 2016, he has organized resilience and community building activities to promote a culture of active non-violence.  Through the Amani Academy, which he initiated in 2018, he introduces children to the basics of reading.  In 2022, Joseph was named a 2022 Mandela Washington Fellow, a program of the U.S. State Department.  For his determination to foster literacy and peace in the context of violent conflict, Judith’s Reading Room proudly recognizes Joseph Tsongo as a Freedom Through Literacy Award Honorable Mention.

“We use literacy to teach and communicate the culture of peace and life skills to young people affected by conflict and war.”        – Joseph Tsongo

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

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

JUDITH’S AWARD – 2023 Freedom Through Literacy

Judith’s Award – $1,500

Amber Drinen – “R.E.A.D. in Beauty Bookmobile”
Chinle, Arizona

The $1,500 Judith’s Award winner is Amber Drinen for “R.E.A.D. in Beauty Bookmobile” project, an initiative of Chinle Planting Hope in Chinle, Arizona, a Native-controlled nonprofit that supervises the Bookmobile which serves 34,000 members of the Navajo Nation, where there is no public library.

There is great excitement about the Bookmobile, according to David Goldberg, MD, who notes in his letter of reference, “There is an ambitious, thoughtful plan to bring books and library programing to the communities surrounding Chinle.  Lives are about to be enriched; memories will be formed; and sparks of wonder are in the offing.” For example, Bookmobile staff provide assistance with laptops, internet and STEM activities while maintaining the on-board library of 10,000 catalogued books for children K-12. 

“Children must experience the joy of a good story and what it means to lose yourself in the pages.”
   Amber Drinen

GRAND PRIZE – 2023 Freedom Through Literacy

Grand Prize Award – $2,500

Ty Jackson – “The Danny Dollar Entrepreneur Fair”
Fresno, California

The $2,500 Grand Prize goes to award-winning children’s book author Ty Jackson for his youth financial literacy project:  “The Danny Dollar Entrepreneur Fair,” Fresno, California.  Ty, a previous winner of the coveted Judith’s Award, developed a creative program based on his book, Make Your Own Money:  How Kids Can Earn It, Save It, Spend It, and Dream Big.   The Danny Dollar Entrepreneur Fair premiered in 2022 in Pittsfield, MA where 300 fifth graders read his book and learned how they could start making, saving and spending money now. This program is successful because it makes reading fun and empowers kids to bring their ideas into the world. 

” We believe that children are more likely to pick up the habit of reading if they are introduced to books that are fun, relatable, and interesting.” 

       – Ty Jackson

Announcing – Pen Pals Across the World


CONTACT: Cathy Leiber

Judith’s Reading Room Announces a Global Collaboration

“Pen Pals Across the World”

Africa’s Ivory Coast and New York’s E. Harlem Students Share Life Stories

February 10, 2023 — Judith’s Reading Room applauded today a global collaboration between two of its “Freedom Through Literacy” Award winners: Mr. Toti Jean Marc Yale, founder and CEO of the NGO Education and English For You, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Ms. Daliz Vasquez, Principal, Mosaic Preparatory Academy, East Harlem, New York who agreed to name each other’s schools as “Pen Pals.”

“Pen Pals Across the World,” was an idea spawned by Judith’s Reading Room and Mr. Yale, whose work with impoverished primary school children in the French-speaking African nation inspired the organization to honor him with a 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award Honorable Mention.  The organization subsequently made a donation of $600 to purchase English language books for the students.

Ms. Vasquez, her Vice Principal Ms. Wilson and numerous Mosaic Preparatory Academy teachers in East Harlem, NY, for their part, enthusiastically agreed to reciprocate by inviting their eager scholars to write letters to their new friends in this west African nation.  In 2021 and 2022 Mosaic’s former principal, Dr. Lisette Caesar won a Freedom through Literacy Award Honorable Mention and Board Option Prize, respectively.

“We estimate that initially 60 children from each location will participate in the Pen Pal project,” said Cathy Leiber, President, Judith’s Reading Room.”  She added, “Our aim is to figuratively shrink the 4,933 miles in distance between Abidjan and East Harlem by illustrating that families, friendships, concerns, fears and hopes are universal.”

To kick start the program and to assist the students in English, Judith’s Reading Room has provided funding for Mr. Yale to purchase 60 English dictionaries for each student participating in “Pen Pals Across the World.”

Mr. Yale wrote,

“I have the honor and immense pleasure on behalf of our community students and all the volunteers of the NGO Education and English for You to say to you from the bottom of my heart a big Thank You. For this program, we have worked in the past with students from the following countries: U.S, Canada, Mexico, Ukraine and Spain and we have never received support like Yours.  Thank you so much Judith’s Reading Room for all the Happiness you offer to the children of the world. I’m a living witness.” 

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Judith’s Reading Room Dedicates its 105 Library


CONTACT: Cathy Leiber

Judith’s Reading Room Dedicates its 105 Library

Organization fulfills “Book Wish List” from Louisiana youth in Residential Care

December 8, 2022 — Judith’s Reading Room, a literacy nonprofit founded in 2010 with its mission to enrich lives and societies by proactively encouraging freedom through literacy, announced its 105th library dedicated in Ruston, Louisiana at the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home (LUMCFS), an organization providing intensive residential care to children from traumatic backgrounds with significant emotional and behavioral needs.  The 105th Judith’s Reading Room library contains 124 books valued at $1,449.

The founders of Judith’s Reading Room, Scott and Cathy Leiber, learned about the comprehensive therapeutic services of LUMCFS while on a riverboat cruise of the lower Mississippi River in September 2022.  While on an excursion, Lynette Tanner, owner of Frogmore, a working cotton farm in rural Louisiana, shared with the Leibers her passion for supporting the mission of LUMCFS. “The compassionate work of LUMCFS to provide services to the most vulnerable boys and girls ages 11-17 caught our attention,” said Cathy Leiber, President, Judith’s Reading Room.

With the idea that children healing from trauma can “get out of their heads” and into a good story with a book and find solace, they might also find friends who are interested in the same author.  The book wish list was compiled by the youth and includes best-selling and award winning books by Christopher Paolini, Dav Pilkey, Scott Cawthon, Rick Riordan, R.L. Stine, Tui Sutherland and Jeff Kinney.  Judith’s Reading Room has committed to replenishing the books since it is hoped that children will take their favorite books with them when they return to a stable home or loving household.

“Children come to LUMCFS from all kinds of challenging situations, and while they are with us, we aim to provide the love and care that is so needed.  We are grateful to Judith’s Reading Room for supporting the healing journey of these children through reading,” shares Sarah Head, LUMCFS Director of Development.


Judith’s Reading Room

Judith’s Reading Room was founded in 2010 in the memory of the founders’ first cousin, Judith F. Krug, who served as Director of Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association for 40 years.  The organization has fulfilled its mission by establishing 105 libraries (and counting!) in 23 countries with 132,000 books worth $1,421,000.

“The Freedom Through Literacy Award,” established in 2015, honors individual champions of literacy from all disciplines around the world— teachers, librarians, authors, researchers, nonprofit literacy organizations, educators — anyone who has done exemplary work to instill in others a love of reading To date, the organization has disbursed $48,500 in cash awards to 47 individual champions of literacy.  Applications for the 2023 Freedom Through Literacy Award are available on-line at www.judithsreadingroom.org.  The deadline for submissions is February 1, 2023.

The Founders’ Award, inaugurated in September 2022, is a cash prize at the discretion of Judith’s Reading Room co-founders, Scott and Cathy Leiber, to honor literacy heroes who have had to overcome immense obstacles in order to enrich lives through literacy.  Two winners were named in 2022 with a cash prize of $1,000 each:  Ms. Basarat Kazim, Alif Laila Book Bus Society, Lahore, Pakistan and Ms. Simon Ke, Anjali House, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The Literacy Chair Award, established in October 2022, is in honor of —or in memory of — a champion of literacy nominated by a Judith’s Reading Room member of the Board of Directors.  Dr. Lisette Caesar, founder and past-principal of Mosaic Preparatory Academy in East Harlem, New York is the recipient of the 2022 Literacy Chair Award.

Louisiana United Methodist Children & Family Services (LUMCFS)

Louisiana United Methodist Children & Family Services is a nonprofit organization with a 120-year history dedicated to the well-being of Louisiana’s children and families.  LUMCFS programs include the state’s most intensive, comprehensive residential treatment in the three Methodist Children’s Homes; the OWL Equine Center’s therapeutic services for children; four Life Skills Training Centers for children in foster care; Methodist Foster Care’s therapeutic foster care program, the Kinship Navigator program, and the Louisiana Foster Care Support Organization; and the Family Counseling Center.  For more information, visit www.LUMCFS.org.


GRAND PRIZE – 2022 Freedom Through Literacy

Grand Prize Award – $2,500

Fayola Fair – “Reading for Black Lives Project”

“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

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