Empowering young minds by promoting reading

Books Feeding Minds project participants. Photo courtesy of Judy Backlund

Books Feeding Minds project participants. Photo courtesy of Judy Backlund

By Judy Backlund, past president of the Ellensburg Morning Rotary Club, Washington, USA, and chair of International Reading Association-Rotary International Special Interest Group.

First and foremost, I am a teacher. I have also been a member of the International Reading Association for 20 years. And I’m a member of Rotary. My involvement with Rotary began about eight years ago when I attended a fireside event with my husband, also a Rotary member. One of the presentations described Rotarian-led U.S. and international literacy related projects. As a teacher I sat in awe and by the end of the presentation my head was spinning by possibilities. I said “sign me up.”

As I joined Rotary, I saw opportunities to combine my passion for literacy, my profession, and my membership in both groups to improve communities. Throughout the past eight years I have worked to connect the International Reading Association and Rotary in a variety of capacities.

Backpacks full of books

Initially, my involvement was limited to small club-related projects such as local International Literacy Day events where our club filled and distributed backpacks for identified local school children. We also presented a backpack full of books and gift certificates to the first baby born in our county on International Literacy Day.

Together your passion, service, and resources can connect in a positive way to make a difference.


Then five years ago I began attending the IRA/Rotary International (IRARI) Special Interest Group meetings at the International Reading Association Conference. Three years ago, I became the chair of that group. I have to say that I have learned as much from my fellow IRARI members as I have given back.

My favorite collaborative idea that I gleaned, currently in our third year of implementation, is the Habitat for Humanity Bookshelves project. Twice a year our Rotary club partners with our local IRA Council to put together bookshelves full of books, specifically selected for the families supported by Habitat for Humanity. We then present them at the home dedication ceremonies. Our bookshelf project escalated into our joint Books Freeing Minds project where together Rotarians, Rotaractors and IRA members work together to collect, sort books for appropriateness, and fill shelves at our local jail. And just last week we purchased a bookshelf for the local food bank meal program. Our groups will be working together to serve meals and keep the bookshelves full. We’re calling this our Keep Them Full project (bookshelves and bellies).

Filling minds

We have been involved in international projects as well. Just two years ago our club worked with IRA members on our Clothe the Body-Fill the Mind project. We spent months sewing pillowcase dresses and scarves, and selecting age- and culturally-appropriate books to be put in baggies with the clothing. Some of our club members were able to take these gifts to an orphanage in Juba, South Sudan. We still have a relationship with this great safe haven for children.

If you are a member of Rotary who believes that literacy changes lives, I encourage you, through your club, to connect with an IRA Council in or around your area. Together your passion, service, and resources can connect in a positive way to make a difference.

Originally posted on the Rotary Service Connections blog

5 thoughts on “Empowering young minds by promoting reading

  1. I just finished my volunteer service with our local grade school. Every Tuesday morning I help Kindergarten children with reading. Then go to second grade and help with reading naturally and finish my morning with third grade a math facts. They never have enough time to get it all in so I love my time with the kids. Thanks for your support to the children.


  2. Pingback: Today’s Links | Rotary International District 3040

  3. Pingback: Empowering young minds by promoting reading | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

  4. Been inspired by Judy Buckland, the teacher, I have a dream closer to hers, if there are teachers willing to join me in projects that have to do with providing safe water to rural schools of my country, please contact me.


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