Denise Gary of Kids Need to Read

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My interview with Denise Gary, Co-founder and Executive Director, of Kids Need to Read. Kids Need to Read works to create a culture of reading for children by providing inspiring books to underfunded schools, libraries, and literacy programs across the United States, especially those serving disadvantaged children. It has always been our desire to not merely give books, but to become an inspiration for childhood literacy. The more we grow, the more we can work to truly make an impact, not only on the children who are at the highest risk, but on all children. We have come a long way in a very short period of time. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we have no doubt we will accomplish our mission. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Naomi: How did you come to work for (or start) Kids Need to Read?
Denise: Kids Need to Read bears one of the most unusual beginnings of a nonprofit ever. I had started an online Nathan Fillion fan group that conducted secret guerilla marketing projects to promote him back when few people knew who he was. Through one of the projects, I came in contact with author PJ Haarsma, who is friends with Nathan. The two guys came up with the idea of Kids Need to Read and I organized the idea into a foundation. We were a motley crew with no experience in the nonprofit world, but we were determined and passionate. Unbelievable magic ensued and resulted in this beautiful organization dedicated to helping children find their way to a better future through books.

Naomi: How can librarians help Kids Need to Read?
Denise: Well, it is our mission to help libraries and librarians, rather than the other way around. However, librarians can definitely support our mission by creating a culture of reading within their respective libraries. That sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but I am referring to passion – spreading a passion for reading among their clientele, young and old alike. Is your library languishing in boredom or is it a living, breathing mecca of exciting literacy activities? Is it vibrant, inviting folks to repeatedly return, or do the doors just open up every day and wait for people to show up in search of a book? I would challenge librarians to make their library—make reading—an indispensable part of their community or school.

Naomi: Can you speak a little about your experiences with libraries? Any favorite libraries or experiences with them?
Denise: I still feel a sense of awe whenever I enter a library, as though I am walking on hallowed ground. The idea that so much of human knowledge is stored upon the shelves inspires a spiritual connection within me. My earliest, and favorite, memory of a library encounter was a visit to the bookmobile, as there was no library in our community when I was a young child. Even then, I was thunder-struck! I marveled at the smell and the freedom to rummage through book after book. I would not leave until I had chosen the full limit allowed. The smell and feel of a book still triggers a pleasure response to this day. I feel as though books are the greatest creation of humanity. Libraries should be at the center of every community and every school, and their shelves should be overflowing.

Naomi: Favorite book(s)?
Denise: I am a nonfiction girl and my favorite books always echo my passions. At the moment, I am drooling and staying up far too late over Arizona Highways Hiking Guide. I stare at the gorgeous photographs and marvel at the wonderful trail descriptions, dreaming of taking every single hike in the book.

I believe deeply in teaching children not just how to read but why they should WANT to read. This belief is reflected in Kids Need to Read’s newest program, Reading Revolution, in which we have partnered with Arizona State University. We illustrate to kids how to use books as a support system throughout their lives and include examples from our own experiences. One of my favorite examples came at a time when I was seeking a way to let go of some deep-seated anger. I turned to Architects of Peace: Visions of Hope in Words and Images. Reading the thoughts of some of the world’s greatest peacemakers had a profound impact on my own sense of peace. The book still sits on my desk as a constant reminder to “focus on the mission, ignore the petty, and always move forward,” which is my personal mantra.

Naomi: Favorite adaptation (book to film or even film to book)?
Denise: Hugo (adapted from The Invention of Hugo Cabret) is the book to film adaptation I am hot on right now. I went in with absolutely no expectations and was blown away by its beauty, both visually and emotionally.

Naomi: Are there any blogs or websites we should be following?
Denise: I love to read blogs of interesting people who share my passion for living and who have the sense of humor I always wish I had! Beyond obviously enjoying reading resource sites, I love to laugh, feel joy, witness the beauty of nature, or improve upon my hobbies. Here are a few examples:

Denise Gary is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Kids Need to Read. During her service as founding chairman (2008-2009), Denise Gary organized the fledgling Kids Need to Read project into a nonprofit foundation. She currently oversees all activities of Kids Need to Read, bringing thirty years of office management and customer service experience to the daily operations and management of the foundation. Denise was awarded the Edwin P. Hubble Medal of Initiative in 2012 for her work in the founding and development of Kids Need to Read. She also participates in community service work as a member of the Mesa Host Lions Club. Denise was a home school teacher for her two sons during their junior high and high school years, successfully teaching one son with Asperger’s syndrome who was passed through the elementary public education system. This fuels her desire to help reluctant readers learn the power and joy reading can bring to their lives.


Formerly entitled Denise Gary of Kids Need to Read …In Six and published on 7/16/12 and 7/31/13

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