LEADERS READERS NETWORK

Formerly Give More Hugs

The Leaders Readers Network, formerly known as Give More HUGS, is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization that offers teachers and students a community to empower their leadership while making a difference. Each school year, it works with a team of teachers and students who implement vetted and impactful teacher and student created service projects to grow leaders and readers in underserved schools and communities. The network of teachers and students are one of the best representing a diverse and dedicated group of leaders who are working together to ensure children in their communities have access to brand new books, school supplies, and leadership development.

TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness:

Texas-based Leaders Readers Network empowers teachers and students to promote early literacy and participate in service projects that provide books and supplies to students at under-resourced schools. Founder, Chris McGilvery began this work in 2012 to empower students and teachers to lead and to serve while changing students' lives. In this episode, Chris and I chat about his work to change the world through education, equity, and literacy for all.

 

Molly Ness:

Welcome to End Book Deserts, the podcast, featuring the innovative people and programs who work to provide book access to our nation's under-resourced areas or overlooked populations. I'm Dr. Molly Ness, lifelong reader book nerd teacher educator. I've created the End Book Deserts podcasts so that all children have access to books and reading culture. The End Book Deserts podcast, a part of the education podcast network, just like the show you're listening to now shows on the network are individually owned and opinions expressed may not reflect others. Find other interesting education podcasts at edupodcastnetwork.com.

 

Molly Ness:

Well, I'm thrilled to welcome Chris McGilvery of the Leaders Readers Network, who is the founder and volunteer executive director. Thank you for joining us today, Chris.

 

Chris McGilvery:

Thank you for having me here, Molly.

Molly Ness:

So, tell us about who you are, what your organization is, and how you got started?

 

Chris McGilvery:

I am a lifelong learner. I love reading and I think my, my personal journey through life has led me to where I am today as a founder, uh, and the volunteer executive director of the Leaders Readers Network. I've been doing this work for over eight years, volunteering in this role to empower teachers and students to, uh, promote, uh, literacy, but also develop their own leadership while helping kids in need have access to books and reading initiatives. Um, but my, my journey to get here is unique. Everyone's journey is unique, and I think we all have stories that we can share to inspire one another. And, um, my mom grew up in the Philippines and she had to work on her family's farm at the age of 11 and doing it to finish her education. And so, uh, my dad met her while he was stationed at Clark Air Force base and, uh, fell in love. They're still married today. They have three, uh, kids that have been able to pursue their dreams and careers because of education. And, um, I know that she's been like a huge factor in motivating me to do what I love to do and to do this especially. And so, um, more recently, my wife and I, we lived in Dominica a few years ago while she was in medical school and I volunteered at the schools there and, uh, it quickly reminded me of my mom's story and every time my wife Taryn and I would go back to Texas to visit family. So, we're from Texas. Um, we'd go back, visit family, we'd go to the clearance aisles, get school supplies, art supplies, books, uh, clothing, and just bring it back to the children that we became close to. And I knew that I didn't want to leave uh Dominica and, um, not do anything about it. And so started a nonprofit organization and we've been continuing to do that work in Dominica, uh, uh, in Texas and across the us, um, inspiring students teachers, students, and community members to help kids in underserved communities at underfunded schools. Um, because we need more people to really understand, uh, that there's a huge issue, you know, every, in every community. And so let's, let's work together. Let's be active community members. And so I'm excited to just dive in and share, you know, the work that we're doing and from stories.

 

Molly Ness:

Yeah. So, tell us more specifically, what does the work look like now and, um, how do you, how do you manage the logistics? Are you a team of volunteers, um, where are you going and how are you helping these communities?

 

Chris McGilvery:

So, we are a team of volunteers. Uh, what makes us unique is that we, we raise up and inspire teacher and student leaders to be seen in their community that are helping to support, promote, and activate reading activities, access to books. And so, students and teachers, uh, apply on an annual basis to work with us. And then we work with a team of students and teachers, uh, to do service projects throughout the school year. Um, this last school year was very unique. I think we began with lots of excitement, of course, you know, teachers welcoming their students and, uh, getting them going and supporting their learning journey. And, uh, we have 15 teachers that worked with us as last school year, all across Texas. And, uh, they were able to help us implement 25 service projects throughout the school year. And the service projects are very creative. The teachers get to put their own spin on it. So, we have service projects for 9/11, MLK day, global youth service day during the holidays as well. And so, a lot of the projects are related to literacy, whether it's writing, reading, and they're very creative. And so, uh, the teachers and empower their classrooms and their schools to serve, and they really get involved in these deeply rooted, uh, service projects that have a direct impact in their community so that those teachers and the students in their schools get to see, I am helping kids have access to books. I am encouraging students to develop their love of reading, uh, by writing to the student and letting them know that, you know, this book can help them promote their imagination, help them dream bigger and continue to read. And so, there are different service projects, but one of the service projects that is a big goal of ours is our Bookshare. We want to incorporate the Bookshare project, every title, one school. We want to encourage, uh, teachers and students to work together to help promote reading, uh, with, with early grades, with, uh, students, uh, the older students, uh, helping the early grade students. And so that they're working together to help ensure they have access to books, ensure that they, uh, love reading and just feel motivated to read. And so, um, and we- we've had have had teachers do that. And it's really neat to hear just the stories from the teachers and the things that, that, that came from the Bookshare project. Um, but you know, the school year here was so unique that schools were shutting down in March and we had to figure out, Hey, how do we, what do we do? How do we do this? We want to support our teachers and students, especially at a time where, uh, there's so much uncertainty, uh, because of the pandemic and, and we're still in it. And our teachers and our students really need our support now more than ever. Uh, we, we see the inequities, we see that there's children and families don't have access to resources. And so how can we support them? Um, we, we, we decided to listen. We listened to our teachers, we wanted to help them. And so, we created a care packages project where we, we armed, uh, the teachers with brand new books, healthy snacks, um, journals, coloring books, they all got a Flat Stanley of themselves so that they can give to their students. And so, the teachers and their families got together, and they put their packages together and did a curbside, uh drop-off uh, to their students. And it was amazing to hear the testimonies from the teachers. And then also see the pictures of the students receiving the supplies. And I'm sure that alone showed so much support to the students, that their teachers there for them, even though they didn't get to finish off the year right. You know, they didn't get to have a celebration in their classrooms. Uh, but this was that kind of celebration for them that we did this together. I'm still there for you. And they all receive three brand new books, healthy snacks, and other materials. But I think one of the things that the students and the teachers will always remember, this is that my teacher was there for me. I'm in, I continue to stay in touch. They're my number one champion at this time in my life. And I believe that that that's going to build that stronger connection where students are going to go back when they're seniors now.

Molly Ness:

Talk a little bit more for people who are not super familiar with the term service project. What does that mean? And tell us about one or two of your favorite service projects that were really literacy-based so that we can really understand, sort the nitty-gritty is a little bit more, no service.

 

Chris McGilvery:

I think everyone has their own interpretation of service be of service to others, helping others, uh, doing something before yourself. And I think that, uh, involving your community in a project that you get to see a direct impact where you're, you're helping, whether it's homeless or, uh, food insecurity, you really, uh, taking the time to really help solve a problem in your community. And I, I truly believe that when teachers and students work together, they can really change the world. They can really help solve problems and more schools are, are, are doing this. And I think as more do these service projects, we'll just be able to continue to help support and promote literacy, um, and communities that necessarily are considered book deserts or, um, underfunded schools. And so, uh, the Bookshare project is probably the, the one service project that continues to show up in ways where there's so many different stories that teachers and students are having. And so, wow. Um, I probably can, we can, we could probably chat for a few days about the different stories, but there- there's, there's one from this last school year that continues to just show up, uh, Mrs. Martinez. She's a third-grade teacher at Boone Marie, uh, elementary school, uh, in San Antonio, Texas title one school, uh, Latino students, uh, of course, others as well, but mainly Latino students and, uh, title one school, which means that students might not have the resources, uh, such as, uh, uh, they might be food insecure. They might be living in a single-family home where the mother or the father is working three to four jobs, and the children are, are supporting each other through this journey. And so, there's a lot more, a lot more struggles that students at title one schools are, are faced with. And, and so, uh, but the story really shows how resilient kids are, how resilient teachers are. Um, when, when Mrs. Martinez started to do the service projects, um, with us, um, it really opened the open, the students' eyes. Like I want to make a difference. I want to help out. And so, they had a turning point, uh, during the holidays, we, we gift brand new books to our teacher ambassadors to, to share a love of reading with kids at title one school. So, since Boone Maire Elementary is a title one school, we, we gave them books for their early grades. So kindergarten, first, and second. And so the third grades students were the leaders for this service project. Their job was to motivate the younger grades to want to read their job, was to share that love of reading that they have with the younger grades. Uh, their job was to write inspirational messages to encourage the students in the younger grades. And so, as the books arrived, I think the leaders, the third graders, they were just like, oh my gosh, all these brand-new books, we're doing this, we're giving it away. I, and they were so excited. And so, uh, and Mrs. Martinez, she called me and she was like, kids at my school. Don't get the opportunity to give a gift. They don't typically get that opportunity to give a gift. And when they were given the opportunity to give a gift, it made them feel like they were on top of the world. It made them feel like they can contribute to their community and made them feel like they are ready to help solve this problem. And that moment it made me realize- this work that we're doing is even more important. Kids like Jose, Jose, or kids, like Olivia need opportunities to be of service, to get great, good, go ahead and just grow their leadership. And they need opportunities to participate. And so, they did all the inspirational letters and we're so excited to go and deliver the books to the younger grades. And so, and when they did. All I remember is that they spread so much love and joy for reading the whole school felt a sense of transformation. They felt the sense of transformation where, uh, the kids notice the kids holding their brand-new books throughout the week. The parent of a kindergarten student read to their child. And the kid went up to her, her, her teacher and said, my mom read to me for the first time. And so it's more about, it's not just how, you know, the access to books, but how we utilize books to motivate students and build that community. And we saw that through this story, and this is just one, one teacher that empowered her, her classroom, which then empowered her whole school. And, and, and that we don't typically just do one project with the teacher. It's usually when they're a teacher ambassador, they're actually working with us throughout the school year. And so it's a, it's a, it's really a community of teachers and students, uh, that are supporting each other's leadership growth and then helping promote literacy for all, uh, for kids that really need it. And I can probably share more stories.

 

Molly Ness:

And the fact that it sort of organically comes from within the community, um, is so powerful. And that's what sort of brings about this, this investment in this long-term change. Um, so I'm wondering what you see down the road for your organization? And I know that's a little bit of a dodgy question given that none of us really have a sense of what the start of the school year in September of 2020 will look like. Um, but I'm wondering if you have plans and thoughts of where you'd like to go.

 

Chris McGilvery:

Yeah. I, you know, I've been volunteering for the last eight years to, to grow a nonprofit. I have learned a lot and, uh, all I know is that this work is really important, and we need to create more moments like the moments I shared about Mrs. Martinez and her classroom and her school. And, and I see us continuing to grow and partnering with more teachers, more students and community members across the nation. Uh, we're based in Texas, but our goal is to promote literacy for all across the nation and in, in Dominica where our mission began. So that gives us that global perspective. And I definitely think and believe that big things will happen, uh, for the Leaders Readers Network. I, you know, you start, when you start something you don't, I never realized we would get to this point. Um, but we're at this point of evolution as a nonprofit organization, uh, from starting off, uh, we, I didn't have the funding to, to get this going. I, I didn't create a business that, uh, had a financial revenue to be able to start a nonprofit. I created this nonprofit because I, I, I, we were in Dominica. I was volunteering, uh, with schools there and I knew I wanted to start an organization because my, my own experiences and my own journey, just being there motivated me to start something. Um, so we started from like a garage sale, $800 to get this project going. And then to today where we have been able to get grant funding from The Pollination Project, uh, which has been a huge supporter of just helping us get going and believing in our mission and the vision. And, uh, the IECA Foundation has been helpful too, with the cares project and our teacher ambassador project. And so, um, as I continue to volunteer in this role, I just realized how important it is. And so, I definitely think that we were going to have a bigger budget in a sense to really support teachers across the nation, really support students across the nation to promote literacy for all. Um, I know we're living in uncertain times, but I'm very certain that this work is needed now more than ever. And so, we will continue to grow. And I believe that we'll continue to partner with teachers in title one schools that will we'll have the same, same, or unique experience, uh, that, uh, Mrs. Martinez had in her school. Um, so yeah,

 

Molly Ness:

Well, we are excited to hear and see what the future holds for you guys. And, um, I know that listeners will want to hear more about your previous work and the work that is yet to come. Um, so we will direct them to the End Book Deserts website to find out more about your organization. As we wrap up, let me ask you the question that I ask all readers are all guests on this podcast in the spirit of, um, promoting literacy as a huge part of our lives. And I like how you started out our conversation today by saying that you are a lifelong learner. I'm hoping that you can tell us a book that has had a really powerful impact on you, something from your past or present that just has really resonated with you. It may not necessarily be your favorite book, but a book that you just, um, has really has really motivated you or changed you or, um, done something in your life.

 

Chris McGilvery:

It's hard to just pick one book one. And so I think the first one that's coming to mind, um, from, from my past, that's really connected to just the importance of literacy. It's, it's a children's book actually. So a really great friend, uh, Dr. Katie Cunningham gave it to, to my family, uh, when, uh, my wife was pregnant with our first son Grayson. And so, uh, when Grayson was, uh, in utero, we would read to him all this book for months. And so, uh, in his early years, he gravitated to that book and he, he, he loved this about, he, like, for some reason, he kind of knew it. And he, he, anytime that we read a book, he w if he was crawling, he would grab it. Or when he started walking, he sent that book, you know, and, and he really loved it. And so there's, this book is Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. So this one may still love it. And I just read it the other night and he had this big smile on his face, and I was like, he remembers, he knows, but, you know, and so, um, I think right now in present time, uh, I think it's really important to just read the literature and in ways that will help you grow. And so one book that I'm currently reading, and I'm a fan of, uh, this author, Jason Reynolds, he's amazing. And I, I'm reading Stamped, uh, Racism, Anti-racism and You. Uh, and it's really helpful. Uh, and, and while we experience the times that we're experiencing and, and really understanding history and how history impacts, uh, our black and brown communities. And so, I, I'm just, uh, you know, thankful that I'm able to learn and grow and, and read something like this. And, um, and so, yeah, and it's a great book.

 

Molly Ness:

It is such a great book. And, um, anybody who has listened to this podcast before knows, I am like borderline stalker fangirl, Jason Reynolds. I had him on the podcast this previous year because he does a lot of work bringing books into incarcerated youth. And, um, as the national ambassador for young people's literature has made really deliberate, purposeful efforts, um, to address book access in some of our underserved, um, the work that he has done recently. And I should preface this by saying that you and I are talking, um, about two weeks after the death of George Floyd and the subsequential, um, protests and conversations around race. Um, Jason has just been doing such amazing outreach work for parents, for teachers, for children, um, on how to have these tough conversations and Stamped is fabulous. If, um, you can, if for listeners out there who can't get their hands on a copy of it, because everywhere I've heard a sold out, which I think is amazing. Um, the audiobook is fabulous because it's Jason's voice who does the narration. Um, and not only is he a fabulous writer, but just his way, his expression, his intonation, his way of speaking in delivering a text, it's just so fabulous. Um, our schools, our world would be a very different place if everybody read, um, Stamped and had candid conversations about it. So, I'm thrilled to hear that one. And I know, um, so many of people out there who are doing this work similar to you are reading and enjoying that book as well. So, um, just another plug for Jason Reynolds, not that he needs it from us, he's, he's on fire lately and deserving of it.

 

Molly Ness:

Well, so thank you so much, Chris, for your time today, we will look forward to continuing our conversations with you and following up on the work that you're doing, um, to create cultures in schools and communities where kids and teachers and parents come together around literacy, um, and empowering kids to be lifelong readers and your work to end book deserts. Thank you for your time today.

 

Chris McGilvery:

Thank you. Appreciate you.

 

Molly Ness:

Now, it's time for this episodes’ related reading the portion of the podcast, where I share out a book from my personal or professional bookshelf. Keeping in mind that Chris and I spoke in mid-June 2020, only weeks after the killing of George Floyd and our nation responded with marches, protests, and difficult, but necessary conversations about race. Fortunately, there is no shortage of fabulous book recommendations to help children understand race and to push ourselves as adults to consider our own thoughts and biases. So, I wanted to share out a beautiful brand-new picture book by Derek Barnes and Gordon James titled, I Am Every Good Thing. This picture book was written from the perspective of a young black boy, and it celebrates this boy's bravery, kindness, resilience, and creativity. The final pages of the book remind us of his rich African heritage and his worth. I Am Every Good Thing is the perfect addition to classroom libraries and home bookshelves that use books to serve as windows mirrors and sliding glass doors.

 

Molly Ness:

That wraps it up for this episode of End Book Deserts. If you know of a person or program doing innovative work to get books into the hands of young readers, email me at molly@endbookdeserts.com. For more about my work and for more about the program featured on this episode, check out our webpage www.endbookdeserts.com. Follow me on social media at End Book Deserts and share out your stories and reactions with the hashtag #EndBookDeserts. Thanks to Duane Wheatcroft for graphics and copy and to Benjamin Johnson for sound editing. Until the next episode, happy reading!