There could not be a more natural community-centered initiative pairing than the Paschalville Partnership’s Community Catalyst Initiative and Read by 4th. Last month, these initiatives came together to talk about engaging communities in literacy at a monthly Story Circle.
Story Circles are presented by the Paschalville Partnership’s Community Catalyst Initiative, a two-year effort led by the Free Library of Philadelphia to serve job seekers in the Southwest Philadelphia community around Paschalville Library, at 70th Street and Woodland Avenue. This new venture, begun late last year, is being funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, whose Community Catalyst Initiative is encouraging institutions across the country to transform how they engage with their communities.
After the group sat down to share a meal of chicken and rice with fried plantains, Reading Captains went around the story circle and shared their experiences working within their communities.
"Our goal is to take the connections, resources, and information we have and pass that along to parents. We help them to lift our children up so they can read at grade level before they fall behind," said Reading Captain, Andrea Blassingame. Read by 4th is a citywide coalition of parents and partners working toward a shared vision that all children will be reading on grade level by fourth grade. Reading Captains work with adults in their communities to give parents access to the resources they need and to promote knowledge about what it takes to grow strong readers.
Blassingame’s sentiment is shared by both Reading Captains and the Paschalville Partnership’s Community Catalyst Initiative. "I care most about keeping people optimistic and hopeful about our future and things we can accomplish, especially if we work together," says Pat Erwin, a Reading Captain and member of the Resident Consultant Team of the Paschalville Partnership. Pat elaborated, "Reading Captains let people know that no matter what is going on in your family, there are people who care about you and your success."
Others chimed in with wisdom and advice. "Give the youth and parents something that lets them know it’s OK to not be perfect. We didn’t get here by being perfect," notes Terica, a Reading Captain with a passion for singing with youth in the many churches she frequents.
"Working with adults, a lot of them do not understand how important it is to be reading at grade level in order to be successful," adds Erwin. "They’re not focused on their six-year-old because they are focusing on where they are living or what they’re eating for dinner." Erwin emphasizes that Reading Captains work with parents, wherever they are in their literacy journey, so that they can meet people wherever they are.
"I feel strongly about the issues and opportunities that aren’t there. There is a lack in our communities. I think we can do way more," says Blassingame.
By coming together within our communities and having these conversations, Reading Captains and the Paschalville Partnership are changing attitudes and highlighting success in Philadelphia.
A version of this post was originally printed in the Southwest Globe Times on Friday, September 20, 2019.