Starting a Rotary Literacy Project

 
 
Carolyn Johnson, a member of the Rotary Club of Yarmouth, Maine, USA, and a retired teacher, recently returned from her eighth trip to Guatemala, where illiteracy rates are as high as 70 percent in rural areas. Her club's commitment to literacy began when she visited the Guatemala Literacy Project booth at the RI Convention in 2005. "What I found neat about the program is that it is self-sustaining," says Johnson. "We donate textbooks for their schools, but the parents pay a small amount for each book. That builds up a fund to buy new books when they are needed, and we can extend our resources to other communities." Johnson delivered books for the first time shortly after the 2005 convention. She brought back lots of photos that convinced her club that funds invested in this initiative would be well spent. "My personal involvement was key," she says. In addition to books, the club also buys and donates school supplies, basketballs, and soccer balls. Several other clubs in District 7780 have supported the project, which, with the help of six other districts, became a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant project that turned an initial investment of $1,000 into $59,000. "That's truly magic money," she says. Johnson offers these tips for creating a successful literacy project: 1. Develop a relationship with the community or facility where your project will be. Resist the temptation to rush ahead with implementing the initiative, especially when the need is great. Take a couple of giant steps back, and make sure that all club members understand and are enthusiastic about it. 2. Apply for grant money from The Rotary Foundation. The multiplication factor reinforces the power of your program in the minds of recipients and allows you to accomplish more. 3. Tap into your club and community resources, including teachers and those with a passion for literacy. You don't have to have education credentials, but it helps to have experts involved in your project, even if they aren't Rotarians. It's a good membership recruiting tool, too.