The History of Kids Need to Read
The importance of reading extends far beyond the mechanics. Its greatest power is determined by how each person uses reading to shape their lives.—Denise Gary
Kids Need to Read was founded as a nonprofit corporation in 2008 by PJ Haarsma, Denise Gary, and Nathan Fillion. The mission of the foundation was based on the work of a 2007 project of the same name. With the help of Debbie Brown and Kristen Klein, Gary began laying the groundwork for the creation of a federally recognized charity that would work to improve the lives of children by bringing literacy back to the forefront of the United States education system. The foundation was legally set up in January of 2008, incorporated as a nonprofit the following May, and was granted 501(c)(3) status in September of that same year. The fledgling organization was often supported by the charitable donations of Browncoats, a community of Firefly and Serenity fans who support Fillion. Every volunteer of the organization was involved in Browncoat activities. Gary, Haarsma, and Fillion were later awarded the 2012 Edwin P. Hubble Medal of Initiative for their work in founding the organization.
No one could have predicted the crash in the economy that came in tandem with the organization's founding. The need for assistance from Kids Need to Read's program immediately compounded. To help speed up the foundation's growth, Gary made the decision to shift the organization from an online charity dependent exclusively upon donations and auction earnings, to a physical entity capable of conducting community fundraising events. Sensing that Phoenix, Arizona would give the foundation its best chance of survival, Gary moved from Texas to Arizona in January of 2009. The Phoenix area had exhibited an unusually high level of support for the organization, as well as a strong awareness of a decline in children's literacy within the area. The move proved to be fortuitous not only for excellent community participation, but because of fruitful partnerships with Phoenix Comicon, Arizona Coyotes Hockey Club, Arizona Renaissance Festival, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Bookmans Entertainment Exchange, Changing Hands Bookstore, Pi Beta Phi Phoenix Alumnae Club, and other companies, groups and foundations. Significant physical donations from Komikwerks, LLC and Highlights for Children, Inc. provided the organization with an early boost on the national level. Highlights for Children continues to be a major contributor, as does the Amy B. Morrill Charitable Lead Annuity Trust and Life Alert Emergency Response. Browncoat groups and Nathan Fillion fans remain steadfastly supportive of the organization, raising thousands of dollars every year in unique fundraising activities.
In addition to Gary, Debbie Brown's consistent dedication to the foundation contributed considerably to its success. Kristen Klein also played a large role in the early development of the organization, until her work was curtailed by the addition of a baby to her family. Brown joined Gary in Arizona in August 2010 to further enable the foundation's forward momentum and a permanent office was immediately established in the city of Mesa. Kids Need to Read outgrew the one room office within a year and is now in its third facility, complete with a warehouse to house and process books. Lori Cothrun took the position of Operations Director after Brown stepped down in 2014. Brown and Klein continue to actively support the organization on its Board of Directors. Haarsma and Fillion no longer serve Kids Need to Read.
Because the foundation dedicated itself to serving children of all ages, it became the only national literacy organization to regularly provide books to middle readers and adolescents. It began to receive submissions not only from impoverished schools and libraries, but from juvenile offender facilities, urban afterschool programs, special education classes, dropout recovery programs, and other specialized programs for older, less literate children. Gary soon felt an urgent duty to more specifically address the needs of children living under oppressive conditions. Several successful literacy programs were created with the goal of transforming lives, including READ Together, Build-a-Book with Steven Riley, Grow Your Library with Gary and Tina Mlodzik, and Kids-N-Peace. Kids Need to Read won the prestigious 2015 Crystal Vision Award by Employees Community Fund of Boeing Arizona, which fully funded The Page Coach, a mobile conveyor of literary treasure to children living in low socioeconomic areas. Kids Need to Read was also honored with the 2015 Veora E. Johnson Spirit of Unity Award for Community Service, presented by the Mesa Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee.
Evolving from a small project giving out one title to each recipient and quickly transforming into a nonprofit organization providing thousands of books to children lacking adequate access to reading resources, Kids Need to Read continues to expand its reach throughout the country. Program goals are accomplished by targeting three major factors affecting the development of strong literacy skills among children: availability of resources, parental engagement, and neutralizing the regressive effects of the “summer slide.” We know that literacy is learned and illiteracy is passed along. By teaming up with schools, libraries and other literacy organizations to vigorously mitigate this issue head on, Kids Need to Read will continue to connect children with books, and illustrate the connection of books with a brighter future to avoid losing another generation of our disadvantaged youth to a bleak life of illiteracy.
KNTR Ninja Party at Serenity LA Convention 2007
San Diego Comic-Con 2008
Wormhole Pirates Fundraiser 2009 Phoenix Comicon 2010
Phoenix Comicon 2011
Phoenix Library Friends 35th Anniversary Literacy Festival 2012
Cajun Crawfish Boil Charité 2013
Cajun Crawfish Boil Charité 2014