Sunday, November 1, 2009

This Month's Cause: Child Welfare

In honor of National Adoption Day on November 21, this month I will focus on child welfare--foster care and adoption.  I am a foster parent and a member of an unofficial community of foster and adoptive parent bloggers.  This month will bring guest posts from some of these individuals, information about organizations that you can support with your time and love, and specific opportunities to support foster children in the District of Columbia.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DC Central Kitchen

There are a number of REALLY GREAT organizations here in the DC area that are doing work to address hunger issues.  Today I want to talk about DC Central Kitchen.

DC Central Kitchen puts into practice the saying "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime."  One of their signature programs is the Culinary Job Training program that helps homeless, unemployed, underemployed, and previously incarcerated individuals learn both the "hard" and "soft" skills that are needed to work in a commercial kitchen.  Graduates of the program are also assisted in finding a job, so that their new skills are not wasted.

And this is only one of their programs.  They have their own in-house catering company that employs graduates of the Culinary Job Training program, they participate with DC colleges in the Campus Kitchens project, they have a food recycling program, and utilize efficiencies to distribute meals to other local social services organizations at a lower cost than if those organizations had to prepare the meals on their own.


Their annual fundraiser is coming up, with discount tickets on sale through Friday.  Here is the email that I got this morning:

60 Restaurants, 5 Battling Chefs, 
ONE Fight Against Hunger

The Capital Food Fight is less than 6 weeks away!
On Wednesday, November 11, you can sample food and beverage from 60 of DC's best restaurants, watch live battles between 5 of the area’s hottest chefs, and see national food celebrities hosting the event.
The early discount ends Friday, so act now to save $25 on your tickets:

AND--as if you needed any more reason--it's all for a great cause. The event has raised over 1 MILLION dollars for our efforts to combat hunger and create opportunity.
See you there!
Capital Food Fight

Chairman & Host

Jose Andres

Chef/Owner, ThinkFoodGroup and Host of PBS-TV's Made In Spain


Ted Leonsis

Majority Owner of the Washington Capitals


Anthony Bourdain

Author and Host of Travel Channel's No Reservations

Honorary Co-Chairs

Sen. John Kerry

Sen. Frank Lautenberg

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

Rep. James McGovern

Battling Chefs

Mike Isabella

Michael Mina

Tracy O'Brady

Barton Seaver

Bryan Voltaggio


Ted Allen

Host of Food Networks's Chopped

Eric Ripert

Executive Chef, Le Bernardin

Carla Hall

Top Chef Finalist and Owner of Alchemy Caterers

Wednesday, November 11 @ 6:00pm
Ronald Reagan Building
Pennsylvania Avenue & 14th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20004

Friday, October 2, 2009

This Month's Cause: Hunger

First off, my standard disclaimer (that is, it is standard for me to start with a disclaimer, not that I have a standard disclaimer): Hunger is a HUGE issue.  I will not even attempt to address all of the facets of hunger this month.  Hopefully, in future months I will be able to return to this issue and look at it from additional perspectives.

On the very very micro level, there is the issue of an individual's ability to access (healthy) food, the barriers to it, and the effects of hunger.

On the less micro, but still pretty micro level, are issues of food supply.

On the local policy level, there is the question of what communities and governments can do to alleviate hunger.

On the national level, there are policy questions involving federal benefits, agriculture subsidies, international trade... There are national organizations working to increase awareness of hunger issues and to support local organizations that are working on the ground level.

And on the global level, there are issues of poverty and food supply well beyond the scope of the individual and community here at home.

This month, we will look at hunger no more broadly than locally.  I will highlight some organizations that are doing great things here in DC, and perhaps some local organizations in other cities.  (Do you have a favorite? Leave a note in the comments, or send me an email!)  I'll talk about some of the policy options that I know about and learn about over the course of this month.  And we'll try to have a contest.

Hunger is, of course, related to poverty.  So there may be some facts and figures about poverty thrown about this month, even though the broader issue of poverty is not our cause of the month. 

And now, a few quick notes to introduce you more to the issue of hunger, especially here in DC.* 
  • There is generally a correlation between high-poverty urban areas and lack of supermarkets.  In DC, there are only 3 supermarkets "East of the River" in the quarter of the city with the highest poverty density.
  • Lack of access to healthy food increases medical risks such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.  
  • When a student is hungry, it is harder for her to concentrate in school, so she will do poorly in school and might also have behavior problems.  (I can vouch for this one.  When I've gone to work while fasting, my concentration is totally shot, I whine, and it is only my adult self-control that keeps me from going completely off my rocker.)
More to come.

* You will note that these are all assertions and assumptions without citations.  I need to be ready to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in less than 2 hours, so I'm feeling particularly lazy.  You'll note that this is a trend of mine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Wow, remind me not to make any commitments for a while!  I thought that I'd said I would announce this month's theme sometime today, not specifically this morning.  And now I have a headache, and still haven't chosen between global health (about which I know very little, but would allow me to highlight the great work of Doctors Without Borders, and would be timely given the tragedy of yesterday's earthquake/tsunami) and local hunger issues (about which I know more, and would be timely given the impending launch of a DC Food for All blog sometime this month). 

I think the headache is related to too many days in a row of staying up Way Too Late (an occupational hazard of unemployment) but still getting up at a reasonable time, so please please forgive me for not making the decision right now.  I will sleep on it and post tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Literacy Wrap-Up

It turns out to have been a rocky first month (and a half) here at Reb(el) With a Cause.  I blogged less frequently than I intended, shared less about the great work going on in DC in the area of adult literacy than I had hoped, and didn't receive ANY entries to my contest!


We donated five tubs of books and videos to Books for America, I learned more about literacy than I knew before, and there's room for improvement.  So all in all, a decent first month.  Stay tuned for next month's cause to be announced tomorrow morning!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Break for Some Local Requests

I haven't quite figured out yet how to publicize the "one-off" events that are worthy of mention but don't fit in the month's theme.  So with that disclaimer, a few local requests:

1. Miriam's Kitchen is looking for mugs.  Have any extra you can spare? 

2. DC WEAVE (Women Empowered Against Violence) is in a push to prevent needing to close at the end of the fiscal year--in just one week.  The subject of fundraising in a recession, earmarks, and the like is for another post.  For now, I will leave it at this: WEAVE serves a vital role in the DC community and is one of the best-known domestic violence support and advocacy agencies here.  Furthermore, this very direct push to raise $85,000 is impressively responsible.  Nervous that you'll donate and they'll have to shut their doors anyway?  Save WEAVE pledges to return all donations if the $85,000 goal isn't reached.  At the moment that I'm typing this, they are at $74,832.  I am going to donate $18.  Will you join me?

Books for America, part 3

I'm typing this post while listening to the Overture from the musical Annie.  What does this have to do with Books for America?  I'll tell you:

I went to Books for America this afternoon to look for a book on knitting.  I've been window-shopping for a book with good patterns but reluctant to spend $20-$25 when I'm unemployed and any project in the book is going to require paying for materials.  They had a few options--not the book I saw on Tuesday that I really wanted, but beggars can't be choosers!--and as I was paying and arranging for them to come pick up the donations from the book drive in my apartment building, lo and behold the Annie cast recording! 

Anyway, Annie has always been one of my favorite musicals (though the scene in the movie where Annie climbs the railroad bridge while being chased by Rooster still makes me nervous) and it's great to be able to listen to it while blogging and knitting.

So all in all, a good day at Books for America.  $7 for 16 sweater patterns and a favorite CD.  Check it out yourself if you're in DC!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reminder: Is Reading Really Fundamental?

Remember to RSVP today for the D.C. Public Library's "Is Reading Really Fundamental?" to be held on September 29.   For more information, see my earlier post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Missed Deadlines?

My dear readers,

According to my site traffic report, there are none of you.  It therefore isn't terribly surprising that I have received ZERO submissions for my first Contest With a Cause.

However, I have been busy getting ready for my impending period of unemployment, set to begin at some time tomorrow.  (Note: "busy getting ready for" = "in denial about").  So I have not posted and more significantly, neglected to post a reminder to enter. 

You are therefore in luck.  I will generously extend the deadline to enter until Monday, September 21.  Any meaningful exposition on how literacy has affected your life, not to exceed about 500 words, is welcome. 


Thursday, September 10, 2009


In DC we  have an adult literacy problem, but we also have tremendous resources to address the problem.DC LEARNs helps adult learners who are looking for literacy classes by serving as a clearinghouse, a single source of information about local programs.  They also provide resources to literacy providers.  Their website isn't the best (I'm not here to criticize, but if you go to their site and have complaints, please don't come back to me and say "hey Reb, why'd you highlight this organization that...?") but they provide a very. important. service.  
I recommend that you check out their site, see what they do, and support them, a member program, or a similar clearinghouse or consortium where you live--in whatever capacity you are comfortable with.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

International Literacy Day

Today, September 8, is International Literacy Day, a day proclaimed by the United Nations to "put the spotlight on the empowering role of literacy and its importance for participation, citizenship and social development."  More information is available on the UNESCO website.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Books for America, part 2

I love love love Books for America.  Of course, I go, and spend (a relatively small amount of) money on lots of books, and then I promptly go to the library and then never get around to reading the books that I bought. This happened just the other day, in fact.  I bought a book that I'm really looking forward to reading about a week ago, and then went to the library last night and checked out something else. 

But that is my problem, of course, not B4A's.  And I really want to make all of you love Books for America as much as I do.  So I'm trying to give them as much metaphorical ink as possible here on Reb(el) With a Cause.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I'm just not that creative.  (Wait, should I not be admitting that? I want you all to come back and bring your friends!)

So today we are going to talk about just a few of my B4A purchases.  

I went into B4A a few weeks ago looking for the book that I ended up getting out of the library last night.  Used book stores are great, but when you're looking for one specific book, you might not have the best of luck.  In the process of looking (at that moment in time, I didn't even remember the name of the book I was looking for--definitely not a recipe for success), I came across a short philosophy book by David Hume on morals.  I never, ever would have come across Hume in a standard book store (because philosophy would not be right next to psychology), and even if I had, I wouldn't have spent the $10 or $12 on it.  At B4A, it was $2.  Two dollars to literacy and a reminder of why I majored in philosophy in college. 

My usual technique when I go to B4A is to look for kid-appropriate DVDs and then to go to the fiction, where I look for new books (new to me, that is, not necessarily recently published) by my favorite authors of the moment.  I got a great book by Herman Wouk that way. 

And finally I check out the section that I only recently discovered, which is the mass market paperbacks.  Not mass market as in romance novels.  Mass market as in the size of the book.  I'm not in the publishing industry so I don't really know what I'm talking about.  But at B4A, this is where you can find some good Dickens or Michener or Irving for only about $2 a book.  And lucky for me, this is the size book that I have plenty of room for on my bookcases.

What's your technique at Books for America?

Thursday, September 3, 2009


One of the reasons I started this blog was to learn more about the issues that I highlight and the organizations who work in these areas.  This week, I learned about ProLiteracy, an advocacy organization that looks at the problem of adult illiteracy on an international scale as well as locally and nationally.  Additionally, ProLiteracy focuses on the important but often overlooked connections between literacy and poverty, health, and violence.

Among ProLiteracy's programs are two book funds to provide course books to adult literacy programs, the National Book Fund, and the Charles Evans Book Fund (this fund supporting specifically those programs that serve homeless adults).

ProLiteracy's website has much more valuable information about what they do and how you can advocate for the needs of adult learners.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Contest With a Cause: Literacy

Welcome to this month's installment of "Contest With a Cause"!

First things first: why should you enter this month's contest?  The prize this month is two-fold.  One, I will make a donation to the literacy organization of the winner's choice, in honor of the winner.  $18 donation this time around; when my readership has grown, I'll consider bigger prizes for future contests.*  Two, your winning entry will be published here on this very blog.

Which leads me to the meat of the contest.  What do you need to do to win?  

First, write a brief essay (in the range of 500 words) or other creative piece about the impact of literacy on your life.  Preferably, your essay will be better written than the preceding sentence.

Second, email your response to me at Reb.A.Katz at by September 15.  

Entries will be reviewed by me, with the top entries judged by Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island Commissioner for Elementary and Secondary Education, and possibly one or more additional judges.

* The random-seeming number here is related to Jewish tradition.  The numerical value of the Hebrew word meaning "life" is 18; thus we prefer to make our charitable donations in multiples of 18.

Guest Post: What is Missing in the Current Discussions About the Economy and Health Care

Today's guest post is from Ben Merrion, Literacy Outreach Specialist with the District of Columbia Public Library. 
Ben writes:

There has been much debate in the press about how to handle, the mortgage crisis the recession and health care; however, what has not been mentioned enough is how these issues are affected by the many adults who have low literacy levels. Earlier this year, both CNN and USA Today covered the most recent report issued from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy and mentioned the statistic that 1 in 7 Americans have difficulty reading. In the DC area, that number is much greater - about 1 in 5 (19%). However, other than these two big mentions, there wasn’t much coverage overall, and now,  the topic of adult literacy has mostly fallen off the public’s radar, and most people do not know these facts.

David Harvey, the CEO of a national adult literacy advocacy organization, ProLiteracy Worldwide, was interviewed recently on C-Span and throughout the interview he mentioned how problems with the issue of adult literacy can be linked to other social issues. He mentioned how the sub-prime mortgage crisis happened in part because of people who couldn’t understand the documents they were reading and signing. He also mentions the fact that those who have been hardest hit by the recession are those who are without a GED or high school diploma.

This has been my experience working at the Adult Literacy Resource Center which is part of the DC Library. We offer information and referral services to those seeking help with basic skills, GED preparation and learning English. We also offer the GED Practice Test free to those who want to take the test without preparing and they have to take and pass it to be able to take the actual GED exam. I have seen many people who have come in for classes or to get a GED because they need a job. Unfortunately, if people do not already have the skills needed to pass the test, it usually takes months of studying and some are not ready to hear that because they need to get a job very quickly.

Harvey also mentioned that a discussion about literacy and how it affects health care is being left out of the debate. He said that adult illiteracy costs our health care system 28 billion dollars a year and if we fixed the literacy problem, we may have enough money to cover those uninsured. These statements, however, in and of themselves are debatable; I asked a colleague of mine who works in the health literacy field and who also volunteers at an adult literacy program about this and she thinks that just fixing the health literacy problem would not solve health issues and that real prevention is intertwined with things such as well paid jobs, no unemployment and housing for all as well as good education. What is less debatable is that health literacy matters: people need to be able to read prescription labels and understand correct doses to take for themselves and others they care about, for example.
Adult literacy matters - it is an important social issue because it is intertwined with other issues people care about and affects those outside of the field in many ways. But so many people are not aware of its importance; because of this, the Adult Literacy Resource Center (ALRC) and DC’s literacy coalition, DC LEARNs, are partnering to do some exciting projects in the future. We will be creating videos about adult learners who have had successes and we will launch an adult literacy blog on DC LEARNs’ website in late September. If you would like to help, check out the ALRC’s facebook page for volunteer opportunities, and announcements about the previously mentioned videos and blog:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Library Card Sign-Up Month

I just learned that September is Library Card Sign-Up Month.  It has been proclaimed so by the Association for Library Service to Children, but that does not mean that the celebration should be limited to children.  Budgets for public libraries frequently are dependent on circulation; the most books and other materials that are used or checked out, the higher the budget.  (I am making this statement without any citation because I am not doing the research to confirm the assertion.  If you have evidence that my assertion is incorrect, or a citation to support it, please put it in the comments, and I will update this post accordingly.)
So using your local library helps not only you but everyone in the community. 
In DC, to get a library card, you can apply at any branch of the library or (and I think this is cool) apply online.

Monday, August 31, 2009

More Facts about Literacy

Most people involved in DC policy and advocacy know Susie Cambria (link is to her Twitter profile).  I will say on a personal note that I admire Susie and want to be her when I grow up.
Susie has a local-focus budget and policy blog.  This morning, she posted some facts about literacy in the DC area: Poor literacy affects 1 in 5 DC residents. You should definitely hop over and read the post; she links to a video of a C-Span segment (disclosure: I have not watched the video myself yet) and other information about literacy.
The title of her post comes from the the statistic that 1 in 5 adult residents of DC lack basic prose literacy skills.  As an aside, I am glad that poetry literacy is not included in "basic literacy," or I would have to be considered illiterate, much to the dismay of my aunt. However, in all seriousness, Susie's title understates the effect of poor literacy skills.  Poor literacy affects not just the adult, but the members of his or her family.  A parent with poor literacy is unable to help his or her child with homework, to read to the child, even perhaps to budget or read a cookbook to make healthy meals.  A parent with poor literacy is likely to be unemployed or underemployed, with the family living in poverty.  All these affect the children in the home, other family members who might need to take the children--or the entire family--in, and the community as a whole.
So while 1 in 5 adult residents may have poor literacy skills, poor literacy affects us all.


Literacy Volunteer Opportunity

The District of Columbia Public Library is seeking volunteers for its upcoming book sale.  Volunteers are needed to help set up (September 5, 7-10) and to help during the sale (September 11-12).  The web site indicates that it is necessary to apply if you are interested in volunteering.

Washington Literacy Council

My friend Drew recommended that I highlight Washington Literacy Council in this space.  Drew used to serve as their general counsel, and other friends of mine have volunteered as tutors through WLC.  
Washington Literacy Council offers a variety of programs for adult learners, each based on research and best practices.  Tutors receive training before being paired with students.  The WLC is expanding its outreach to young adults age 18-30 in order to have secondary impact on their children's school achievement.  And what strikes me the most is their Family Literacy Workshops.  These workshops help parents, many of whom did not have a strong background of reading at home with their own parents, to know how to build their children's early reading skills.  The workshops meet at schools with parents and their children to learn techniques and read together.  
If you'd like to contribute to the Washington Literacy Council to support the Family Literacy Workshops and other programs, you can do so here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Everybody Wins! A National Literacy Organization

Everybody Wins! is a school-age literacy organization that has been getting a lot of press recently because Senator Kennedy volunteered regularly through Everybody Wins! DC.  It was on my radar anyway, and I learned just last night that the national organization is in the middle of a fundraising auction. The auction runs only through September 2, so check it out and make your bids soon!
Why should you support Everybody Wins?  I suppose it wouldn't be too compelling if I told you merely that their website features an adorable kid.  Instead, I will tell you that Everybody Wins is addressing the literacy gap between low-income and high-income communities, one mentor, one child, one book at a time.  The first statistic included in the literacy gap article is shocking and highlights the need for programs like Everybody Wins: "In the US, the typical middle-class child enters first grade with 1,000-1,700 hours of picture book reading time; a low-income child averages just 25." (Adams, M. (1990.) Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.)
Where will the money from this auction go?  This auction supports the national organization, which in turn supports local affiliates and the Power Lunch program.
If you cannot participate in the auction but would like to make a financial contribution, you may do so here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Book Drive, part 2

Exciting news, here in Book Drive land.  Yesterday evening when I got home from work, I was pleased (and, to be honest, a little bit surprised) to find that there were already donations in the book drive box.  But today when I got home--the box was FULL and there was an entire other box of videos.  Wow.  Books for America will be quite pleased.
If you know where I live, feel free to stop by with contributions. 

Ted Kennedy

It seems that there is an obligation, whether a moral obligation or just through peer pressure, to dedicate a blog post to Ted Kennedy in the wake of his death the other day.  This is not intended to be a political blog, though I'm sure my biases will show through frequently, so I will not praise Senator Kennedy here for being the "Liberal Lion" or champion of health care reform. (For what it's worth, I do not believe that health care reform itself is a desire limited to liberals.  It is the details, not the goal, that inspire political acrimony. 
However, to the extent that "health care reform" has become a buzzword for the goal of a nationalized--to whatever degree-system, I will be avoiding the subject here.)
Senator Kennedy stated in 1985 that "The presidency is not my life; public service is."  His actions echoed these words.  As reported by Richard Lacayo on the time of his death on Aug. 25 in Hyannis Port at the age of 77, [Senator Kennedy] had 46 working years in Congress, time enough to leave his imprint on everything from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, a law that expands support for national community-service programs. Over the years, Kennedy was a force behind the Freedom of Information Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He helped Soviet dissidents and fought apartheid. Above all, he conducted a four-decade crusade for universal health coverage, a poignant one toward the end as the country watched a struggle with a brain tumor. But along the way, he vastly expanded the network of neighborhood clinics, virtually invented the COBRA system for portable insurance and helped create the laws that provide Medicare prescriptions and family leave.
Here in Washington, he regularly read to students at Brent Elementary School through Everybody Wins! DC. 
May we learn from his example and may his memory be for blessing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Reading Really Fundamental? September 29

(UPDATED: Note that I am aware that there are weird font things going on here. I'll try to fix it and avoid similar issues in the future.)

From Ben Merrion at the District of Columbia Public Library: 
The Adult Literacy Resource Center at the DC Public Library in partnership with DC LEARNs will be hosting an FYI on Adult Literacy: “Is Reading Really Fundamental? How Adult Literacy Is Related to Different Social Issues” on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 from 6:30 - 8:30 pm at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW  in the Great Hall.  Find out how adult literacy is connected to issues such as unemployment, poverty and health care.

Become engaged: interact with adult learners, providers and advocates; find out how adult literacy matters to you and DC; volunteer for an adult literacy program; and connect to the adult literacy blog. The featured speaker will be Talmadge Guy, author of Providing Culturally Relevant Adult Education: A Challenge for the Twenty-First Century.  
Please RSVP by September 20:  You can email: or call (202) 727-2431. You can also sign up on Idealist or Facebook.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Drive

I very well might have the best landlord (well, building manager) on the planet.  Really.  Granted, I have some strange landlords to compare him to: the elderly man who lived below me my first year of law school who reasonably required us to be quiet after 10 pm who nevertheless banged on the ceiling with a broomstick one Sunday afternoon at 4; the bizarre man who lived above me my second year of law school who insisted on renovating our one bathroom while there were three of us living in the apartment (and took away the 3rd floor residents' parking space and laundry access in retaliation for refusing to all him to renovate their bathroom--we at least successfully withheld rent for the 23 days we didn't have a shower); and others.

But my current landlord has been more than gracious with making substantial repairs to my unit as a result of various inspections required as part of the process of being licensed as a foster parent (more to come on that issue when I highlight Child Welfare as a monthly cause). 

And despite the trouble I have therefore subjected him to, he still likes me.

What's the point?  I emailed him to ask if I could hold a book drive in our building.  His response warmed my heart: "YES YES YES! VERY COOL! When?"  He is printing notices to put in each unit's mailbox; I will provide a box.

The books will be donated to Books for America.  If you know me personally and would like to drop off a contribution, you should feel free to do so.

Books for America

I buy my books at Books for America, a used book store in my neighborhood.  Books for America collects used books and then re-sells them, with the proceeds going to literacy efforts.  Any children's books that they receive are donated directly to libraries, schools, and after-school programs serving low-income kids. Other books are donated to adult programs, such as shelters, adult education programs, and prisons.

I hope that by the end of my month (and a half) highlighting literacy, Books for America will be your favorite bookstore.  This post is just a teaser for better posts to come.

How to support Books for America:
  • When shopping at, enter through the Books for America site.  Books for America will receive up to 15% of your purchase.
  • Donate books at their store (22nd and P Streets, NW, in Washington) or warehouse (in Fairfax).
  • Host a book drive at your office.
Do you have a story to share about the friendly folks or great selection at Books for America?  Leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This Month's Cause: Literacy

In honor of the start of the school year, I've decided to highlight literacy this month (and through the end of September).

Literacy, the ability to read and write, is critical to finding and keeping a job, to maintaining one's home, to staying healthy, and to raising educated children. Low literacy levels correlate with high poverty, as poverty traps families in a cycle of stressors that interfere with successes, and low literacy prevents families from raising themselves out of poverty.

In the District of Columbia, the facts are pretty dire.  Although data are not recent, various compilations of statistics found online point to a rate of functional illiteracy that is higher than one-third of the population.  Public school outcomes on standardized tests, though improving, still show dismal rates of proficiency.  The District of Columbia Public Schools touted their impressive gains in this press release, which nevertheless admits the truth that fewer than half of all DCPS students are proficient in reading.  (NB: I have selected DCPS students to comment on simply due to the ease of finding consolidated data.  This is neither to overlook nor to imply any comment on charter schools or their students' performance.  For specific school scores on District of Columbia standardized testing, you may refer to the NCLB Data Reports site.) 

The good news, however, is that there are many, many individuals and organizations committed to helping District residents to improve their literacy skills.  Throughout this month, I will introduce you to some of these organizations. 

As always, if you have an organization that you would like to be promoted this month (whether in DC or elsewhere), an individual who is doing good work in the area of literacy, or if you would like to guest blog, please comment or send me an email.

The People Have Spoken

All eight of you.

The votes are overwhelmingly, after just 12 hours, in favor of highlighting one theme per month.  Within that construct, I will do a variety of things: educate about the issue; introduce local (DC),  national, and global (as appropriate) organizations working on that issue; suggest ways to support relevant organizations, perhaps singling one organization out for special attention; solicit donations on occasion; or others.

The themes I select will be, to the greatest extent possible, neither political nor controversial.  Of course, my definition of "controversial" might not be the reader's.  So, for example, two hot-button issues about which I have strong opinions and care deeply will not get any (or much) metaphorical ink because they are clearly controversial--I leave you to consider what they might be--while an organization based in Israel might be politically neutral yet engender strong negative opinions from some corners based simply on the fact of its location.  I do not consider the latter to be political or controversial.  I offer that as an example to illustrate the criteria (unformulated) that I will be using to decide whether a theme or organization is acceptable to write about in this space.

I have heard from one friend already that she has two issues or organizations that she would like to recommend to me.  I encourage all of you to do to the same.  You may do so here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking for a Gimmick

Earlier today, I read this article in the New Yorker.  Despite its possibly disparaging attitude towards what it calls "gimmicks," it prodded me to follow through on my half-formed ideas for this blog.

During the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar, the month leading up to the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur (day of atonement), it is traditional to take stock of the previous year--ones failings, in particular, but also one's strengths and successes, and one's interactions with others.  This then ushers in the ten-day period encompassing the two high holidays, during which we rely on the strength of our repentance, our prayer, and our acts of charity to secure a good decree for us and our loved ones.

This first week of Elul, then, is an auspicious time for this blog to have its beginnings.

I envision this blog supporting worthwhile causes--whether through financial contributions or exposure and education is a decision yet to be made.  Please help me focus this blog by responding to the poll on the sidebar.  Should I:
  • select a theme each month and highlight organizations that support that theme
  • select an organization each month and collect donations from readers
  • select an organization each month and an activity to solicit pledges (for example, if the organization were a literacy organization, I could do a "read-a-thon" that month, and get pledges for a contribution per book read)
  • something else? I had 19 or so ideas as I was composing this in my head, but have forgotten all but these three.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Literacy Resources (in development)

District of Columbia
Books for America
DC LEARNs (clearinghouse for DC adult literacy programs)
Washington Literacy Council

Everybody Wins!
National Institute for Literacy (a federal agency)
Literacy Directory (search for literacy programs)


My Friends are Passionate About...

Kat is passionate about the AAUW 
Sheryl is passionate about disability awareness and Bloom's Connect
Evonne is passionate about Judaism and the environment: Canfei Nesharim 
Jasleen is passionate about Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy 
Shmuly is passionate about Uri l'Tzedek and the Tav ha-Yosher