The power of literacy


Merry Schlarman

Ready Readers is a nonprofit organization working to enhance the literacy of children in the St. Louis region.

Reading to a classroom of wide-eyed, eager preschool children is a weekly occurrence for Angela Sears Spittal. As the book unfolds, the preschoolers tell stories, sing songs, laugh and give high-fives. Each page is filled with colorful drawings that further enhance their imaginative worlds. Spittal, executive director of Ready Readers, said she loves her time spent reading out loud to the children; it’s her favorite part of the job. According to Spittal, that’s what Ready Readers is all about: creating happiness and forming connections.

Ready Readers is a nonprofit organization working to enhance the literacy of children in the St. Louis region. They do this in a number of ways: reading stories aloud, providing professional development for teachers and supplying books to children and schools. 

“We serve schools where 70% or more of the families receive free and reduced lunch benefits,” Spittal said. “We generally serve lower-income communities.”

As a result of COVID-19, Ready Readers can no longer visit classrooms for story time. Instead, the organization developed alternative programs for person-to-person connection and education, such as virtual reading, and giving children and teachers books as well as extracurricular activities. Another program is the Pen Pal program, in which volunteers write letters to children in the classroom to pose questions and provoke discussion.

“[The Pen Pal program] is a very different approach to early literacy than we’ve ever done before,” Sheila Oliveri, the early childhood literacy and curriculum coordinator, said. “Before, it was all about reading stories and conversing. [This program] is much more focused on the alphabet [and] letter recognition.”

While some think Ready Readers simply reads books to children for enjoyment, Oliveri explained their mission is more complex, emphasizing how deliberate the organization is. She believes every minute the volunteers spend working for Ready Readers is time they are spending investing in the future of the community through children. 

“It’s a very deeply thought out and multilayered approach to educating and informing about social [and] emotional learning,” Oliveri said. “Engaging the children in conversation about what happened in the story [is most important]. We [also] establish relationships between children and teachers that help them enjoy the learning process, thereby preparing them to become successful learners, successful people in society in every stage of their development. And we use books as the vehicle to get those conversations started.” 

Spittal emphasizes that preschoolers benefit greatly from relationships Ready Readers helps form. To the organization, building connections is a fundamental part of their mission. 

“Any time a child has a loving, caring adult investing [in them], that’s a beautiful thing,” Spittal said.

We are all about relationships and helping people connect with one another.”

— Angela Sears Spittal

Support and funding from the greater St. Louis area is vital for Ready Readers to continue their charity. Donating around 80,000 books a year, serving around 10,160 children and operating in 660 classrooms, Ready Readers finds contributions essential to their work. 

“Luckily, we have not seen a large drop in our community support [due to COVID-19], especially our financial support,” Nora Steele, program and book manager, said. “Anyone who can get the word out to businesses and other organizations that can provide funding is always a plus. We are now accepting volunteers to do virtual reading and the Pen Pal program, so that is an opportunity for people who have the time.” 

Ready Readers dedicates their program to helping those in need, recognizing that children in lower-income communities have less access to books compared to children in wealthier areas. According to Spittal, diversity, equity and inclusion are all values the organization embodies. 

“It’s critical for everyone to have an opportunity,” Spittal said. “Our work is all about ensuring that every child deserves to start at a level playing field. Whether they’re from a low-income community, middle-income [or] high-income, they’re able to start at the same spot and have the resources they need.”

Steele also voices how crucial it is to look outside your bubble. She explained how in the Kirkwood area there is extreme need that everyone should be conscious of.

“Get to know the areas you are living in,” Steele said. “Just be aware of the true basic needs. Food, clothing, shelter, employment, safety, health, and then think deeper, [like] education. Anything you can do to help those in need, if you’re able, you should try.”

To donate or volunteer, go to the Ready Readers website which has all the information needed to contribute.