About the program: by Al Magid, Founder and Executive Director
Three years ago I founded The Reading Is Fun Program (RIF) in Schenectady, NY, an economically distressed, heterogeneous city of 65,000, many of whom were suffering distressed lives. Since then, aided by a large and ever-growing cohort of volunteers, I've been networking all over the city and in the surrounding area to keep building the program so that it can fulfil its mission to help teach reading-readiness (letter identification, letter sounds, and letter combinations) and conversational skills and vocabulary to as many as possible of the city's 4- to 9-year-olds, in pre-K, kindergarten, and grades 1 to 3, so that the youngsters may be more solidly grounded and their prospects in life significantly improved.
During the 2015–2016 school year, 65 RIF volunteers worked one on one with 104 youngsters in different public venues, principally in eight schools. Early on I was warned by some that it would be a daunting task, with little likelihood of success. They've been proven wrong.
RIF is partnering with six key organizations in Schenectady, all of them as determined as I am to ensure that RIF will have a permanent place in the civic life of the municipality: the Schenectady City School District, the Schenectady City School District Education Foundation, the historic First United Methodist Church, the Boys and Girls Club, the Schenectady County Sheriff's Office/Jail, and the Schenectady Police Department. Among the RIF volunteers are the county sheriff and an assistant chief of police, both of them decked out in their handsome uniforms as they work on reading with Schenectady schoolchildren.
(NOTE: A 510(c)(3) tax-exempt entity, the Schenectady City School District Education Foundation, manages all money raised by The Reading Is Fun Program to support RIF's activities; the education foundation also does routine year-end bookkeeping for RIF.)
I'm often asked what led me to adopt for RIF in Schenectady the motto "Where Every Child Is Everyone's Child." What does it signify? This is an important question. I address it here.
More than a half century ago, I went with my family—my wife and two daughters, ages 26 months and 15 months—to Nigeria, to spend the 1962–1963 academic year conducting Ph.D. dissertation research on local politics and governmental administration among the Idoma people. While there, I frequently observed newborns being breast-fed by women who were not their biological mothers—for example, when the biological mothers were ill or tilling the fields or trading in the marketplace.
One day I remarked upon this to a village elder, who proceeded to ask me if it was not the practice also in America. I answered that it was not, then asked him why it was so in Idomaland. He answered, "It has always been this way among our people. You see, among the Idoma every child is everyone's child."
A few months later, my family had an experience that brought this practice home to us squarely, directly. As we traveled along a country road, my battered old VW Bug suddenly blew a tire. My wife and our two daughters sat nearby as my local research assistant and I strained to replace it, in the blazing, noontime heat.
Suddenly there appeared a bare-chested woman carrying a load of firewood on her head. Seeing our plight, she put the firewood down on the ground and began rubbing her breasts. What could this mean? My wife and I conjectured that the woman must be ill and suffering pain. I asked my assistant if this was so, and should we drive her immediately to the government hospital a long way off. He laughed, then remarked, "No, she's not ill, she requires no hospital care."
My assistant went on to explain: "Seeing your two young children and appreciating your family's distress, she was offering to breast-feed the youngsters." I asked him to tell the woman that my wife and I were deeply appreciative and that our girls were off breast and bottle and needed no assistance with feeding. Hearing that, she lifted the firewood back onto her head, wished us good fortune, and went on her way. I asked my assistant if the woman had expected to be paid for her service, and he replied tersely, "Of course not, among the Idoma, every child is everyone's child!"
That spirit is what the all-volunteer Reading Is Fun Program is about: helping children in need in families in need, engendering widespread feelings of optimism and hope.
RIF continues to be acclaimed in many quarters in Schenectady and the surrounding area. Classroom teachers in the city school district have been effusive in their praise of RIF's work with youngsters on the reading front, as have been the Superintendent of Schools and other school administrators, government officials, the electronic and print media, and a wide array of civic organizations and ordinary citizens.
The Schenectady City School District Education Foundation has selected The Reading Is Fun Program as the 2017 recipient of the Ray and June Benenson Community Service Award, which is presented annually to individuals and/or organizations rendering outstanding support to the students and teachers in the city school district. The award will be presented at the foundation's Education Celebration event to be held January 19, 2017, 6:00–8:00 pm, at the historic Proctors Theatre in Schenectady.
To support its work, RIF is continuing to attract volunteers along with donations of money and children’s books and educational apparatus and writing supplies. Its fundraising campaign includes an annual hayride/bonfire event at Riverview Orchard on Riverview Road in Rexford, NY, this year on September 30 from 7:00 to 9:30 PM. The public is invited to attend.
Want to learn more about The Reading Is Fun Program? Feel free to reach out to me by any of the means below.
Dr. Alvin Magid
The Schenectady City School District Education Foundation/The Reading Is Fun Program
PO Box 9437
Niskayuna, NY 12309
Alvin Magid, Ph.D.
Founder and Executive Director
The Reading Is Fun Program
"Where Every Child Is Everyone's Child"
Emeritus Professor of Political Science
University at Albany/SUNY