Twenty years ago this week the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) was born.
Like all new nonprofits, we started small. Our first initiative was the Rural Library Program. We created it to provide collections of new, high-quality children’s books to rural public libraries in New Hampshire or Vermont that were struggling with limited resources, and that wanted to attract more young readers.
That first year we scraped together enough funds to sponsor six libraries. Our very first event was a presentation for the Hill Public Library in the rural community of Hill, NH. The town’s public library was located in a large closet below the school gym, and many of the books were decades old and falling apart. As part of the sponsorship the Hill librarian was able to select dozens of new, hardcover children’s books to add to her collection, and I was scheduled to deliver the new books and tell stories to all the children in the elementary school.
As I drove up to the school I remember wondering
“Is anyone going to care about this? Is anyone going to show up?”
Fortunately, the answers were ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes.’ In fact, more than 10% of the entire town attended the CLiF presentation. The children enjoyed the stories and were very excited about the new books. When we were done, every child checked out a new book, the librarian stood beaming, and someone brought out a delicious homemade cake with a CLiF logo on top. The logo was, quite literally, the icing on the cake.
It was an auspicious beginning, and CLiF has not looked back:
- In our first year CLiF had one volunteer presenter (yours truly). Today, CLiF works with 62 professional presenters – local authors, illustrators, poets, storytellers, and graphic novelists. We pay these amazing individuals to crisscross the Twin States inspiring young readers and writers face-to-face.
- In 1998 we partnered with rural public libraries. Today we also partner with schools, low-income housing developments, shelters, refugee programs, prisons, childcare centers, programs for foster children, summer camps, food programs, and many other venues where children and their families gather.
- In 1998 we visited six communities, gave away $7,200 in new books, and had a total attendance of 500 children. In 2018, CLiF is expected to operate in 160+ communities, give away roughly $750,000 in new books, and have a total attendance of 40,000 children.
- We also provide a wide variety of support to parents, teachers, childcare providers, and other caregivers, hold regular conferences, and distribute literacy materials and ideas through our website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
- Everything we do is completely free to all our clients.
As I reflect on the last 20 years I feel a tremendous amount of appreciation and affection for all the CLiF Directors, Advisors, staff members, volunteers, presenters, partners, and donors who have enabled us to reach and inspire more than 225,000 young readers and writers in 400+ towns across New Hampshire and Vermont and give away more than $5 million in new books.
And we’ve only just begun. Onward!
P.S. We’ll be marking CLiF’s first 20 years of service at a special celebration at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, VT this Friday, March 9 from 6:00 – 7:45 PM. We still have a handful of spaces available. Please let me know ASAP if you’d like to join us.