“Mr. Portell, I do not have any books at home to read.” As a first year teacher at a low-income school in Nashville, TN I did not realize the impact that these words would have on me and thousands of children nationwide. It was my first year teaching when I asked my students to read at home for 15 minutes, and a boy named Ciro responded with the statement above. Having grown up just two houses away from the public library, this was difficult for me to comprehend. However, after a little research I found that this issue is not uncommon. Actually, Nueman and Dickinson (2006) found that in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books per child is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. 1/300 children actually have age appropriate books in their homes to read!
It was at this point that I knew I had to do something! I am an avid cyclist that can be seen commuting via bicycle to work, riding on the weekends, and racing throughout the year. I took my passion for riding and reading and started the organization Ride for Reading.
Because of the generosity of cyclists, I was able to turn my dream of making a difference into a full 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2008. Ride for Reading’s mission is to promote literacy and healthy living by donating books via bicycle to children from low-income areas. With the assistance of many, including Better World Books, we have donated over 140,000 books nationally to children who truly need them.
Every month in Nashville, Tennessee as many as 40 cyclists gather and ride to the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods with books in tow. The riders are greeted at the school with smiles, welcome signs, and cheering children. Once they come to a stop, a RfR representative speaks to the children about the importance of a healthy life and literacy. The volunteers then lay out hundreds of new and used children’s books and the students get to pick a couple that they love to take home with them and read as often as they like!
One of our largest programs is known as National Ride for Reading Week. This occurs every year for one week in May (which is also National Bike Month). During this week we ask volunteers around the country to organize and host a book delivery via bicycle in their own city! Please visit www.rideforreading.org to see how you can make a difference!
Mathew Portell is currently serving as Instructional Coach at Inglewood Elementary in Metro Nashville Public School District. He received his M.Ed. from Tennessee State University and is currently enrolled in Trevecca University finishing his Educational Leadership endorsement. He recently published his first book which is based off of the mission of Ride for Reading. He currently resides in Hendersonville, TN with his wife Melissa and 3 year old son Harrison. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Devon Balet Photography.