Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Introduction to Open Books

Reading and writing are important to me.  I can't imagine my life without words and stories and information.  I think that is why I was so touched by the mission of Open Books.  The organization is based in Chicago, and though I had read about it online before and seen the location from riding by on the Brown Line, I actually went to visit last night for a volunteer orientation session.

Open Books works to "enrich lives through reading, writing, and the power of used books." Donated used books fill the large, colorful bookstore, and profits from the book sales are funneled into literacy programs for kids, teens and adults. Open Books has collected over 300,000 books so far (about 10,000 per month), and since its beginning, it has served over 4,000 students through a number of literacy programs.  After being there one time for about an hour or so, I can see Open Books is a real community and there are tons of ways to get involved... volunteer, attend fun events, or just stop by and purchase a book.

To be honest, I haven't volunteered in awhile.  I would love to say I had a good excuse... I am busy but isn't everyone?  After learning about how I can get involved with this amazing non-profit, I knew this was the right place for me to spend some of my time.  The enthusiasm from the staff and other volunteers was contagious.  Plus, I love to read and write... and it would be fantastic to help bring that joy to someone else.

Besides listening to various staff members talk about the programs, the bookstore, and other ways to get involved, the group of us attending the orientation participated in an interesting activity.  We were each given a piece of paper with a couple paragraphs on it and asked to volunteer to read out loud.  Each person who agreed to read would translate one line aloud.  I say "translate" because the passage looked like this excerpt below:

gnitirw gnidaer, hguorht sevil hcirne to :NOISSIM a sah skooB nepO
laicos tiforpnon a :SI skooB nepO .skoob desu fo reqop eht dna
,smargorp ytinummoc sedivorp ,erotskoob yranidroartxe na setarepo taht erutnev
.dnoyeb dna ogacihC ni ycaretil etomorp ot sreetnulov etanoissap sezilibom dna

It's enough to get your heart pounding.  Reading this is tough (hint: read it from right to left), but doing so out loud also conjures up that feeling of anxiety you probably experienced in your grade school days when called upon to read aloud.  And even if you can read it, the work required to simply form each word makes it nearly impossible to actually comprehend the meaning. 

We also did a similar activity with writing; each of us wrote a sentence about why we wanted to volunteer at Open Books... in our non-dominant hand.  I had to concentrate to draw out each letter and the slow, messy process was slightly frustrating.  It made it difficult to fully express my thoughts and ideas.

All bookstore photos via Open Books website
These exercises really brought the issue of literacy to life and made me fully aware of what it's like to not be able to read and write.  It's been a long time since I learned these skills and I realized I take it for granted.

- 53% of adults in Chicago have low or limited literacy skills.
- 61% of low income families have no children's books at home.
- 21 million adults cannot read this sentence.
- 37% of adults in Chicago cannot read a story to a child.
- 44% of American 4th grade students cannot read aloud fluently.

Not only are literacy skills important for enjoying a long novel or creating a fun blog post (ha!)... but they are also necessary in everyday life, for finding one's way around the city or reading the labels at a grocery store, for communicating at work or excelling in school.

If you are interested in getting involved with Open Books (in a small or large way), visit the website or send me an email at inspirationandroughdrafts [at] gmail [dot] com.  Teachers - if you are looking for a cool field trip experience, consider taking your students to Open Books for an "Adventures in Creative Writing" field trip. 

Happy reading...


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