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Freedom Readers is on the Move!

Thanks for stopping by to check out the Freedom Readers blog. Please feel free to browse around and read some of our earlier entries. These posts chronicle the joys and pains of our first days of operation.

All future posts will be on display at our new online home:
We cordially invite you to follow the link and sign in at the bottom of the home page to get periodic updates on what’s going on.

Thanks again for your support!


First Book/ Proud Day Celebration 10/25, 27

Freedom Readers invites you to join us as we celebrate the strengths of our young scholars and the magnificence of reading with First Book.

On Monday October 25 from 3 pm – 4 pm at the Darden Terrace Community Center, members of the First Book advisory board of Horry County will honor our youngsters and tutors with games and delicious treats. Freedom Readers recently received $750.00 in brand new books from the organization whose mission it is to distribute books to children in low wealth communities. Thanks to the hard work of tutor and Freedom Readers grants specialist, Claire Campana, we were granted a variety of books that match the interests and reading abilities of our fantastic young scholars.

At the conclusion of the First Book celebration, Freedom Readers will host a 30 minute Proud Day program in which each individual scholar will be recognized by her tutor and a teacher or family member. We will focus exclusively on the strengths of each participant and the progress we’ve seen in reading ability, public speaking presence, maturity, and responsibility since the session began on September 9, 2010. A similar program was held in spring of 2010, and we are expecting an even greater level of community participation.

If you have an interest in Freedom Readers and would like to see the program in action, please leave a comment below. We’d love to make arrangements to have you visit us. Also, if you’d like to leave a word of encouragement for one of our tutors and/or scholars to be shared on Proud Day, we’d love to hear from you!

Introducing the FREEDOM READERS  of Fall 2010

Team Darden:

Juanita Cribb-Wade, Team Leader

Jawaun Floyd ………..Bernetha Ham

Elijah Bessant…………Charity Prince

DeAngelo Vereen-Price………Caroline Knight

Lydia Bessant……………….Megan Floyd

Hannah Loudin…………….Nancy Kennedy

Chekhanna Keith………….. Ann Alford

Lucy Brown………….Claire Campana

David Grissett………..Tish Richter

Stacie Smith…………….Sue Powell

Jake Floyd……………..Tony Campana

Isaiah Spain ………………………..Betty Rosado

CJ Woodard………………………………..Lois Smith

Team Huckabee

Justin Lewis……………..Dan Gray

Antwuan Chandler/ Jacob Seals………Bill Kleinbach

Alexander Chandler……..Jeri Dubbs

Tyson McNeil/ Jameek Dukes…….Tracy Bailey

Makijah Spain………….Angela Sayler

Dejanera Parker/ Ana Hernandez…….Paula Caruso

Kevin Jackson/Asante Jackson………..Steven Harmon

Ezekiel Jackson/ Jose Hernandez…………Sybil Lee

Lesson in Love

Yesterday I met and fell in love with a book. Its colors, its rhythm, its message, everything about it spoke to my heart in that way that deep calls unto deep, and the frozen lake of the spirit is forever fractured by the white-hot pick of knowing.

14 Cows for America, a  children’s picture book by Carmen Agra Deedy, is  described by the New York Times book review this way:

“This is a lovely picture book about foreign aid involving the United States and a remote village in ­Kenya, but it’s not what you think. Instead of an earnest tale about Americans helping an impoverished people far away, it opens with a Kenyan named Kimeli returning to his village from New York City in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.”

The story rides on uncommon waves of compassion and empathy. It’s a simple tale about the human family which ends with the words:

“Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”

Perhaps I would not have been so moved by the book had it not been for the masterful and slow-paced approach that Dr. Diane DeFord employed in her sharing of it at the Freedom Readers New Tutor Orientation held at Christ Community Church Saturday September 4. She modeled for us the power of sharing a good book, from the jacket cover, to the artwork, to the words themselves. Each element of the story was savored and cherished. The entire tone of the sharing was respectful, no– reverent.

Diane invited us to voice the connections we made as she read and narrated the text. She shared with us along the way that she’d traveled to Africa, and we talked about the enormous significance the Masai people place on cows. I thought of the way our tutors give the gift of their precious time in much the same way that the villagers of this story give of their most prized possessions. I felt proud to be a Freedom Reader.

So much of what we do as tutors is about who we are as people. Freedom Readers spend time cultivating that well of compassion that is present in every human heart, but can so easily dry up if not visited and relinquished regularly. In the nine months I’ve spent so far on my journey with Freedom Readers, I have found that the only way to replenish this well is to relinquish it and allow myself to look with eyes of kindness. It also helps to take a moment each day to reflect on the unexpected and unmerited kindnesses shared with me at just the right times. It can be the quick sharing of an encouraging email like my friend Cindy sent to me today, or unexpected donations to Freedom Readers from Roger Quinn and Mary Neal. It can be a gift of computers like the ones board member Gregory Mitchell delivered to Huckabee Heights this week, or boxes filled with hundreds of books like the ones my friend Dominic loaded into the back of my car. And when I think of the way Dr. Diane DeFord has embraced this effort and makes the three hour drive from Columbia to share her incredible expertise, I am moved. It humbles me to consider how richly I have been blessed and am being blessed. Sometimes the road is bumpy, but it’s good to know I’m not on it alone.

This simple sentiment defines the Freedom Readers culture. We seek to connect with people on an uncommon level. We challenge the status quo through literacy in an effort to restore our communities to a place of peace.

Diane reminded the group that to experience a book you need to explore it in a variety of ways. Notice her choice of words. Experience, not cover. We experience books at Freedom Readers and uncover the wisdom, surprises, and power waiting on each page. We find out a little bit about each author and why they write. We speak to the young scholars of the feelings provoked in us as we read, and let them know that it is alright to have those feelings.

These are powerful lessons. As we prepare our hearts for the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, we take this opportunity to engage our community in a conversation about compassion, giving, and empathy. We come together to heal together. And we teach our children the lessons we must embrace so this never happens again. Books can do that. They can inspire us to wonder, move us to act. They can offer us comfort and help build bridges.

Armed with nothing more than our books, these powerful weapons of hope, light, and inspiration, we begin our fall session tomorrow, September 6.

And it is in the tradition of the Masai that we set aside our most precious gifts as offerings to our young scholars.

We are expecting great things.

Y’all Come!

Please join us for our 1st

Watermelon & Sweet Tea Social

Date:        Friday, September 10

Time:        5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Place:       Picnic tables along the river at Marina end of Riverfront Park in Conway

Purpose:    To honor the literacy group’s volunteer tutors and their student scholars

Questions:  Contact Tracy Bailey at or call her at (843) 251-1804

We hope to see you there!

New Beginnings

Ah….the start of another school year. New book bags, new outfits, notebooks, binders and pencils. New attitudes. New possibilities. Another chance to get things right.

I love fall! And although it’s still blisteringly hot outside, I’m already feeling a change in the air. Before we know it, leaves will be changing colors in places where fall actually exists in a weather sense. Where we live there is only an almost imperceptible transition from hot to less hot. Fall has to happen in your heart when you live in coastal South Carolina.

For me the turning always starts to happen right around the first day of school. When I was younger I looked forward to the new school year because it signaled the return of structure, time with friends, learning new things. Actually though, I have to admit that my joy over the new school year was always tempered with a certain amount of dread. Would I like my teachers? Would they like me? Would I miss the bus?

As an adult and a parent, the new school year means something else altogether. Starting tomorrow my kids get to continue on their personal learning journeys. Instead of being the orchestrator, I will resume my role as a sideline cheerleader. A very vocal, outspoken, involved sideline cheerleader. OK, more like a quarterback than a cheerleader, but who’s keeping track?

Because I am a former classroom teacher, I understand the importance of staying involved with my kids’ schooling and establishing a good relationship with their teachers and administrators. I think that my role as founder of Freedom Readers, though, also influences the way I define “staying involved”. As I pack my kids’ lunches and head off to school with them and make sure they are settled on the first day, I think about the single moms who have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. I think about the kids who will eat free lunch the way I did until the day I graduated high school. I think about the fathers who will want to attend PTA meetings, but can’t. I think about the parents who shy away from schools because of past hurts they’ve endured there.

I know in my heart that there is little difference between my kids and the kids of the families I just described. All of the students come to school the capacity to know more and the curiosity that drives us all. It’s just that some students lack support, for whatever reason. Some very intelligent students end up having to figure things out on their own when the last dismissal bell rings.I wonder who will read to them and help them with homework. I wonder if the school will offer them the opportunity to stay longer in situations where there is no one at home to help.

These wondering are the reason why Freedom Readers continues to be a presence in the community. It is our hope that we will offer support to families who value education and are seeking aid in achieving their academic goals. On September 6 we begin our fall session at Darden Terrace. We are in desperate need of dedicated, high energy tutors who can give one hour a week to help one child read better. Without the support of the community, however, this program fades into nothingness leaving our current young scholars and the families of some talented youth we haven’t even met yet, to navigate the school year alone.

Though fall can be seen as a season of slowing down and dormancy, it is also a wonderful season of rebirth. At Freedom Readers, it’s a season of second chances and new starts. It’s a season of opening new doors to an exciting school year by offering all our young people the skills and tools they need to make this year their best yet. And it’s a season of reminding all of us that the best is yet to come.

Freedom Readers Celebrate Summer

Here are a few candid shots of Team Darden, a group with lots of character and energy. We held our summer celebration there last week, and our special guest was Horry County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Cindy Elsberry. She asked lots of questions and took quite a few photos and videos for her blog.

 We were pleased to present the following young scholars with a $25 Wal-Mart gift card in recognition of their perfect attendance: Kenya James, David Grissett, and Stacie Smith. Everyone else received a $10 giftcard with which they can buy a backpack or other school supplies.

Our biggest reader of the summer, Meshalean James, took home a brand new laptop computer which was donated by Freedom Readers tutor and Board Treasurer, Dr. Ken Small. Every tutor and scholar received a free ticket to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans game, and more than 40 of us attended  last night. Big fun was had by all!

Devonte & The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Kim G. Alford

Before I begin, I must let you know that when I first attended Freedom Readers, I had only intended to visit. 

It all started when I asked Mrs. Tracy Bailey to tell me more about what she did. 

I had been hearing about the program, and knew enough to know it was great. But as Tracy began to tell me more, I knew this was something I had to see for myself. 

I determined to check it out the following week.

When I arrived, I was greeted and invited to join the circle. I immediately felt welcome and part of the group.

Tracy began by instructing us to make name plates –like successful people have on their desks… Ours were to have symbols representing our personalities and values. I was sitting beside a little guy named Devonte. I was immediately attracted to his big smile. He wasn’t completely following, so I asked what he would like to draw on his name plate. He wanted a football but needed some help. I was hooked. His eager spirit and bright eyes had caught my attention and stirred my spirit! At that moment I knew I had become more than just a one-time visitor.


The weeks that followed were great. I quickly learned that Devonte was a good bit younger than the rest of the group -only four years old! Probably needless to say, I struggled to keep his attention with books for the duration of the reading time, and was feeling quite exasperated trying to pull an “I know that I know something…” speech from the little guy!

When I mentioned my dilemma to Tracy, she encouraged me and spurred me on with great ideas of how to get and keep his attention, and she even gave me room to move outside the normal regimen of the program. What a relief!!

That week I came across an Itsy Bitsy Spider book and found these cut-out patterns online.


Well, they did the trick! He loved the cut-outs, loved the song, and with a little help from a small dry-erase board, he even loved writing! We drew spiders with eight legs and a web in the corner, and practiced the letter D for Devonte! 🙂 It felt like success and a breakthrough that mattered!

I am incredibly thankful for Freedom Readers and the contribution it’s making to this community. Lives are being changed, and not just the moldable young scholars’ lives! I don’t know another volunteer mentor who wouldn’t say their life is also being impacted by their experience with Freedom Readers!

If you haven’t seen the program in action, I encourage you to check it out this fall. Maybe you’ll become more than a visitor too!