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




2021 Freedom Through Literacy Awards Announced


CONTACT: Cathy Leiber

2021 Freedom Through Literacy Awards Announced

Winning Applications Highlighted Exceptional Creativity and Impact


July 22, 2021 — Ms. Angela Chalkiopoulou, Limassol, Cyprus, declared Grand Prize Winner of the 2021 Freedom Through Literacy Award.   Chalkiopoulou, an educator, dominated the field of applicants with her literacy project, “Alice in Writer’s Land,” winning her the top prize of $2,500.  A colleague described Angela as “a future literacy marvel and an excellent example of how creative teachers can turn inspiration into action, changing the way children perceive themselves towards literacy.” Alice in Writer’s Land collaborates with artists, educators, writers and illustrators—introducing the children of Cyprus to the writer’s way of thinking. “Literature is the absolute source of inspiration, the joy of human intellect, when combined with ingenious art and multimedia toolkits, it can transform a classroom into a small collaborating and learning society, offering the prospect of a hopeful future for all of us,” said Chalkiopoulou.


Ms. Joicki Floyd, Newark, New Jersey wins the 2021 Freedom Through Literacy “Judith’s Award.”    Floyd, a high school teacher whose literacy initiative “Y.O.U.T.H.” (You Open Up Then Heal) seeks to transform the lives of inner city children and their families through reading is awarded $1,500.  Joicki’s creative program includes the use of Socratic Seminars and discussion panels with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.  She articulated the essential idea that in books, youth who lack hope and positive influences, can find positive motivation, examples and influences.  “If you build libraries in the hearts of the youth, you will empower them with points of reference that may change the trajectory of their lives,” stated Floyd.  The Judith’s Award is named in the memory of Judith F. Krug, a librarian who dedicated her career at the American Library Association to protecting the freedom of speech.


At the discretion of Judith’s Reading Room’s Board Members, each year, $1,000, is set aside for Board Option Awards to recognize high-scoring applicants.  The winners of the 2021 Board Option Award are:


Ms. Sue Goatley, nonprofit leader, Children in the Wilderness, “Jabulani Community Literacy Programme,” in the Zambezi Region, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  Goatley, a 2019 Board Option Award winner and recipient of Judith’s Reading Room’s 100th library dedicated July 2021 at Ziga Primary School, has once again captured the judges’ attention with her acute description — and solution — of adult illiteracy.  She writes, “Seeing a young child struggle learning to read can often seem like an uphill battle.  However, a truly heart-breaking scene is watching a young teen, new into high school, staring blankly at a page.”  Goatley’s community literacy program at Jululani Primary School is an evening program available to teenagers and adults with any level of literacy.  It also offers an opportunity for teachers to earn additional income.  For her work to de-stigmatize adult illiteracy in isolated and rural Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe, Goatley wins a 2021 Board Option Award in the amount of $400.


Ms. Lisa Gerard, founder, Little Read Wagon, in Norman, Oklahoma.  In 2020, Gerard had a kernel of an idea that grew into an ambitious grassroots outreach effort to supply new and donated books to children living in “book desert communities” in Norman and surrounding areas.  Lisa built a mini “library” at a local laundromat then added a lending library and a volunteer program to collect and distribute culturally relevant books at community events.  In just one year, Gerard has distributed more than 10,000 books to children and adults.  Ms. Breea Clark, Mayor, City of Norman endorsed Gerard adding, “This outreach program engages and inspires a great love for reading with a passionate ambition in bridging the literacy gap in the Oklahoma City Metro area.” For her joyous, passionate and creative approach to getting books into the hands of her fellow citizens, Gerard wins a 2021 Board Option Award in the amount of $300.


Mr. Derek Witmer, 2nd Grade Teacher, “Diversity and Inclusion Library,” in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Described by his Principal as “a conscientious and exemplary teacher, a true difference maker and a positive force in modern education,” Witmer initiated a collection of literature — a curated library — that touches on important topics such as general diversity, acceptance, gender identity, familial make ups, and SEL.    This 2nd grade teacher didn’t stop there.   Also included are stories where a student has a parent in prison, families dealing with immigration, language barriers and stories dealing with the loss of a parent.  He enhanced the library by creating resources and discussion cards for teachers.  It is no wonder that other schools in his district have reached out to him for help in adopting his Diversity and Inclusion Library.  Derek believes that “Literature has the power to change the world, and I’m glad to be able to have an impact on the upcoming generations.”  In recognition of his compassion toward students who experience and struggle through things that most of us can never truly understand, Witmer wins a 2021 Board Option Award in the amount of $300.


To encourage and propel certain 2021 applicants to continue their efforts and to re-apply for the 2022 Freedom Through Literacy Award, the judges declared the following Honorable Mentions (no cash award):


Ms. Lisette Caesar, Educator, “Mirroring our Kids,” in East Harlem, New York.  Caesar’s project is to fill her classroom libraries with books that have protagonists that look like the children she educates.  She emphasizes, “Kids asking us to provide more books about their culture or with characters that look like them —  is a first for us.” In recognition of Caesar’s belief “that it is important that impressionable black and brown kids see themselves in positive ways in the books they read,” Judith’s Reading Room, through the Honorable Mention designation, wishes to give Caesar global recognition and encouragement.


Ms. Simon Ke, Executive Director, Anjali House, “Mobile Library Project,” in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Anjali House’s Mobile Library used tuk-tuks (a common mode of transportation in Cambodia) to reach over 850 students in remote villages.  COVID restrictions have prevented its expansion. In recognition of their community outreach, Judith’s Reading Room seeks to bring global attention to the literacy work currently “stopped in its tracks” in this well-known tourist destination near Angkor Wat, where Judith’s Reading Room dedicated a library in May 2013.


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 101 libraries (and counting!) in 22 countries with 130,500 books worth over $1.4 million.


The Freedom Through Literacy Award was initiated in 2015 as the organization’s signature event.  Including the 2021 winners, the organization will have disbursed $43,500 in cash awards to 40 unique champions of literacy.  Freedom Through Literacy Award winners — 2015-2021 — hail from the United States, the Philippines, Bhutan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Cambodia, Mexico, Australia, Zimbabwe, Greece and Cyprus.






10th Anniversary ‘Stand Out’ Library – Casa Guadalupe

To celebrate its 10th Anniversary, Judith’s Reading Room, a global literacy non-profit organization founded in 2010 kept good on its promise to bolster libraries it has donated over its 10 year history. 

Casa Guadalupe was selected as one of the 10 ’Stand Out’ libraries that Judith’s Reading Room selected to honor during our 10th Anniversary celebration.  The Board allocated a total of $5,000 to spend on books, for $500 each of the ten awardees.  In this case, we purchased 44 books valued at $513.

The theme for the donation is in honor of March being National Nutrition Month.  

Dawn Bush asked for terrific children’s books that would make fruit and vegetables fun for the children served at Casa.  Some of the books (Blueberries for Sal and Carrot Seed) were favorites of Cathy Leiber’s sons when they were little.
Sadly, our charitable donation is on hold because Casa Guadalupe (WIC) is closed so the nutritionists there are unable to receive our gift.  We will reschedule the donation when we get the “all clear” from the authorities.
Books Donated to Casa Guadalupe, Allentown, PA (Date Pending Coronavirus Update)
in celebration of the organization’s 10th Anniversary and in honor of National Nutrition Month

A is for Artichoke, A Foodie Alphabet from
  Artichoke to Zest, (2 copies)
Ahlberg, J., Each Peach Pear Plum
Brown, M.W., The Runaway Bunny
Byrd, R., In the Garden, Turn & Learn
Chapman, J., Vegetables in Underwear (2 copies)
Child, L., I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
Collins, R., What Does An Anteater Eat?
Doyle, L., Watch Me Grow
Ehlert, L., Eating the Alphabet — Fruits & Vegetables  from A to Z
Fruits & Vegetables – S.T.E.A.M. Learning for Young Children (9 copies)
Gaines, J. We Are the Gardeners (7 copies)
Graham, O., Carrot Soup
Hood, M., Carrot & Pea, An Unlikely Friendship (2 copies)
Hudson, K., Too Many Carrots ( 2 copies)
McClosky, R., Blueberries for Sal
My 100 First Words (3 copies)
Nelson, K., If You Plant a Seed (3 copies)
Scarry, R., Best Little Word Book Ever!
Staake, B., The Red Lemon
Swanton, T., The Vegetable Bible (2 copies)
Yonezu, Y., 5 Little Apples

Judith’s Reading Room’s 10th Anniversary – 10 ‘Stand Out’ Libraries 

In addition to libraries, Judith’s Reading Room holds an annual competition for the “Freedom Through Literacy Award.”  Initiated in 2015, Judith’s Reading Room has disbursed $33,500 in prize money, honoring 31 individual champions of literacy in the United States, the Philippines, Bhutan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Cambodia, Mexico, Australia, Zimbabwe and Greece.

Applications for the 2020 Freedom Through Literacy Award may be found at  Deadline is July 1st.  Winners announced end of July. 

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