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Reading for the Win!

Featured Photo from Reading for the Win!

Seminole County’s Literacy Alliance wins a national grant to give 1,000 books to local kids in need.

After nearly a decade of tireless work in Seminole County, The Literacy Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging literacy through a variety of resources and programs, has earned a very special distinction. It was chosen as one of only two recipients worldwide to receive the 2018 Books For Readers grant by the international Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). The grant provided The Literacy Alliance with a library of over 1,000 new, recently-published, signed books donated by its authors from all over the world to distribute to children and young adults in the community.

“It’s really exciting for us to be recognized!” says Diane Keyes, The Literacy Alliance’s founder. “For someone as large as SCBWI to say, ‘good job’ means a lot.”

Recently, SCBWI hosted a celebration at Sanford’s Westside Community Center to officially present the books to The Literacy Alliance and meet some of the children and young adults from the community – each of whom went home with their very own book. Leading members of SCBWI flew in from all over the country, including New York Times best selling author Lin Oliver, SCBWI’s cofounder and executive director. She came all the way from California to kick off the evening.

The Literacy Alliance was officially founded in 2009 by Diane, the youth services librarian at the East Branch of the Seminole County Public Library in Oviedo. It started as a way for Diane to introduce her own children to meaningful volunteer work in the community. The organization has since exploded into more than a dozen literacy programs that Diane and her volunteers take into many underprivileged areas around Central Florida. Diane still works as a full-time librarian and is a published author, but her heart for helping children is unflagging.

“I do absolutely, completely believe that every child is good, every child is lovable, and every child deserves the best we can give them,” says Diane. “I love to see people grow and give them opportunities. I don’t know where it came from or how it is, but I can’t seem to stop!”

The Literacy Alliance also gives out as many free books as it can afford – sometimes handing a child or young adult the first book they’ve ever owned.
“One of the things we’ve learned about communities that have economic struggles is that books are a luxury,” Lin explains. “They call them book deserts where there is maybe one book for every 200 kids available to them to own. So it makes a big difference to take your own book home.”

 

It was Oviedo author and SCBWI member Leslie Santamaria’s nomination letter that drew SCBWI’s attention to The Literacy Alliance.

“It was the diversity of the programs,” Leslie says of why she nominated the nonprofit organization. “It’s a small group of volunteers, but they are tireless. They rarely say no.”

“They’re working in a diverse neighborhood, which is a really important thing,” Lin adds. “And they work with different kinds of populations of kids – those in the hospitals, detention centers,  and kids who are in foster care. And those are all the kids on the fringes of our society, where a book can make a life difference."

So rather than give to schools that have libraries and librarians, SCBWI tries to find local, hand-built community organizations that are doing this, organizations that are maybe struggling with money and would never be able to build this themselves.

“We’re thrilled to support them and then let them do their work one child at a time,” says Lin. “To see their work in action, it’s really nice to be a part of it.”


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