Trezise: Lansing RIF program helps make reading a joy for kids
Recently, I watched a five-month old child reach out for a book that was shown to him. He had been read to since birth, so already, this was special to him — a smiling adult, encouraging, loving, happy — offering the gift of reading. Here was visual pleasure, warmth, and just pure joy. Such a smile as he looked and tried to turn the pages!
In 1966, Washington D.C. Margaret McNamara (wife of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara) was reading from a book to an inner-city student. When the time came to part, the boy looked wistfully at the book and it was clear how much he had loved it. Mrs. McNamara immediately put the book in his hands and said it was his to keep forever.
In 1975, a small group of people in Lansing heard about this unique effort to give books to children, Building upon this idea, Reading Is Fundamental (fondly known as RIF) was born in the Lansing Schools. The program has grown from two grades in four schools to three books a year to every child from preschool through 10th grade (we are hoping to include 11th and 12th grades soon). Our grand total for these years is approximately two million books.
Over this time RIF has become a household word. Older adults who were parent volunteers now see their grandchildren with their “RIF books.”
What is the magic that has carried this effort for so long? The journey of a RIF book is carefully directed. A RIF policy board maintains strict standards for RIF as well as being active fundraisers. Many have served more than 25 years and laughingly say there’s only one way one can leave RIF.
With a supportive school district, RIF is an integral part of the dedication to enhance the reading experience. Every RIF book is selected by a committee of professionals with library and teaching backgrounds. Beautiful artwork, exciting stories, and, best of all, that elusive magic that individual children discover when they see just the right book for them.
The journey of a RIF book continues as adult volunteers select books for their school and a distribution takes place in the local school. Here’s where RIF shines! From several hundred books, children pore over, examine, agonize, and finally make the choice. It’s hard! There are so many choices! But the good news is that there will be another RIF —this year and every year!
Where does the money come from, to provide the very best available books, year after year? It comes solely from the community — organizations, corporations, and most of all, from individuals. Every year RIF must raise $95,000.
In the spring, we like to celebrate RIF. This year we are holding our annual RIF benefit event at Turner-Dodge mansion, May 31, 4-5:30 p.m. Our volunteers, RIF Board, school personnel and donors are invited! We want to thank all of you and gain your heartfelt support for the coming year!
Joan Trezise is a RIF board member and founding director of Lansing RIF.