Meet Wren: Guest Blogger and Girl Scout

Hello! My name is Wren Raviolo. I’m a sophomore at Cary Grove High School and a member of Girl Scout Troop 968. I’ve been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way. I’ve earned my Bronze, Silver, Service to Girl Scouts, Community Service, and Presidential awards; all of which are the highest a Scout at my age can earn, other than Gold. I’ve done so many amazing, cool, and crazy things that I wouldn’t have been able to without Girl Scouts. I’ve learned so many essential life skills and I truly wouldn’t be the same without them.

When I was a middle school student, I was often known by my peers and teachers for being incredibly passionate about English, poetry, and literature. I’ve always had a love for reading, and I want to spread that positivity to anyone I can. My mom is good family friends with Mrs. Hatfield, one of the volunteers for the A to Z Literacy Movement and she told me all about it. Of course I wanted to get involved,
and I did just that. Mrs. Hatfield had dozens upon dozens of children’s books waiting to be distributed locally or shipped to Zambia where A to Z sends books most often. Due to the worldwide pandemic, the Movement was unable to send books to underserved children, so that’s where my job came in.

I volunteered to spread the word of A to Z and donate as many books as possible in our local McHenry County area. First, we had to load up the books into boxes to be brought to my house. Then, I had to design stickers with A to Z’s logo, website, and their story on them, to be placed on the books’ covers. Once the books all had stickers on them, my mom and I loaded them into our car and started to drive. We planned to go to every Little Free Library within 10 miles of our hometown and leave one book in each. We did this so that people will see the stickers, get a free book, know where the books came from and spread the word of A to Z’s mission.

“The Girl with the Louding Voice”

By Betty Trummel

I love a book that makes me think…that challenges me to make a connection with my own life.  I recently finished “The Girl with the Louding Voice,” by Abi Daré.  It is a work of fiction, written about a Nigerian girl whose goals are to become educated, escape the life of poverty she was born into, and to help other girls do the same. 

Adunni’s life is not so different than so many other girls (and boys) around the world struggling to get an education.  This book made me think about some of the students in Zambia that A to Z Literacy has touched and whose lives have touched our very own.  The parallels between Adunni’s life and our Zambian students was unmistakable.   One female student came to my mind immediately…Dianna Zulu.

I met Diana on my first trip to Zambia with A to Z, in 2010. In 2010 she was just emerging as a reader at Shine Zambia Reading Academy…and certainly didn’t have very well-developed literacy skills.  Fast forward eleven years to 2021, and Diana has graduated from nursing school!  This is such exciting news indeed! 

With support from Mr. Vineet Bhatnagar, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Founder of Shine, Diana continued her schooling after graduating from Shine and went on to nursing school a few years ago.  A few weeks ago, she wrote me to tell me, “I’m no longer that Diana you were teaching phonics and sight words to in 2010.  I’m a qualified nurse.” 

I’ve followed Diana through the years, and have seen her and her family each of the four times I’ve been to Zambia.  She was determined, she had that “louding voice” and didn’t give up.  Diana shared these thoughts with me a few weeks ago:

“My journey to become a nurse wasn’t an easy one, but thank God it all came to pass with the help from friends and prayers from my family.  There are times I failed but I could not give up, because all my future and my family depends on this gift of education that I was given. 

I believe that education is the only thing that God has given me through people who helped me achieve it to change my family’s life.  Having been born from a humble background, I had to work extra hard to change some things in my family and my community.  At the moment my fingers are crossed, waiting to be given an opportunity to make the difference and give back to my family and community.”  (July 2021)

These stories of success are not as common as I wish they were, but still…each person who gets an education can give back to their community and help it grow stronger.  Each person who uses their voice to speak up for education is critical to promote change for the future.  Each person who is educated can teach others.

The following powerful words were spoken to Adunni, and I think they ring true no matter where you live or how old you are.

“You can do it,” she say.  “God has given you all you need to be great, and it sits right there inside of you.”  She drop my hands, point a finger to my chest.  “Right inside your mind, in your heart.  You believe it, I know you do.  You just need to hold on to that belief and never let go.  When you get up every day, I want you to remind yourself that tomorrow will be better than today.  That you are a person of value.  That you are important.  You must believe this.” (Chapter 41)

Diana is poised to be an excellent role model at Shine, in her family, and in her community.  She has goals for her future.  “After some few years of practice, I’m upgrading to a degree.” 

I am so very proud of Diana Zulu and congratulate her on her nursing qualifications! Each time At to Z Literacy Movement donates books or supplies or supports and encourages a student, we can help work toward a better future, whether it’s Nigeria, Zambia, or any place around the world. Please consider a donation to further the work of A to Z Literacy Movement.

One Child Big Impact

For many of our supporters, Jonathan Mwale is a familiar name within our nonprofit. A to Z Literacy Movement has been financially supporting and mentoring Jonathan’s academic career since 2013. Over the years, Jonathan has continued to demonstrate high academic commitment and achievement. Equally important, he has exhibited incredible responsibility as the head of his family’s household after his father was tragically killed in 2017.  

As a college student in Zambia, Jonathan continues to progress in his studies at the University of Lusaka. Some of you may remember that he started his college career at Mulengushi University, but after careful consideration of courses within his major, he made the decision to transfer. This fall, his course load includes Medical Ethics, Biochemistry, and Medical History. 

When he is not studying, Jonathan works a part-time job at a takeaway restaurant outside of Lusaka. He enjoys his job, but more importantly, supports his mother, sister, and brother providing money for food, electricity, and other necessities.

A to Z has made the commitment to support Jonathan and see one child all the way through college. We have also made the commitment to support his family with their $150 monthly rent expense because as the oldest male in the house, this cost is Jonathan’s responsibility. 

Your support has propelled our work forward and we thank you for your generosity over the last 12 years. Now, as we prepare to send Jonathan back to college, we ask that you consider making a small donation on behalf of his college fund and family expenses. Please head to our website to donate. Thank you for not only helping us to change the course of this young man’s life but the lives of his family and community as well. 

Would You Consider Donating a Book?

As summer begins, we are excited about opportunities to participate in several local outreach events and we need your help! Would you consider donating a like-new or gently-used book (or two) to help ensure we have enough books? Specifically, we need books that boys (and girls) will enjoy.

Here’s what kids are asking for when we host an event:

  1. Big Nate series
  2. Dog Man series
  3. Diary of Wimpy Kid series
  4. I Survived series
  5. InkHeart series
  6. Ranger’s Apprentice series
  7. Gordon Korman Everest or Island series
  8. Harry Potter series
  9. Secret Agent Jack Stalwart
  10. New Kid by Jerry Craft

If you have a book (or two) to donate, please contact Mal at mal@atozliteracy.org. We can pick your books up or you can drop them off. Thanks so much for your support!

Excited About Local Reading Outreach

We have been waiting. Patiently waiting. Sifting and sorting. Boxing and bagging. Thankfully, as COVID cases have dropped and vaccinations have become available, our A to Z team has finally been able to get out into the community to promote the love of reading and get books into kids’ hands this spring!

To be safe and socially distanced, we created A to Z Books in Bags. With several baby board books in one bag and intermediate boy books in another, we loaded up a variety of bags with children’s books to give away at a local food pantry and family health clinic. There were primary book bags, middle school book bags, and intermediate book bags. Sure, we wish kids could have self selected their books at these two events, but the books in bags were a hit!

We also had the opportunity to host a Ready For Summer Reading free book fair at a small school in Elgin. Each student was able to self select two books to jump start their summer reading. Watching kids browse the book selection brought me true joy, and even better, was to listen to the conversations among students as they made their decisions: I love that guy! He’s so funny…It’s so hard to choose…This was one of my favorites from my childhood (said by a 4th grader)…Did you see any books about cicadas?

As an organization, we believe in supporting the reading lives of kids, helping to build their at-home libraries, and promoting the love of reading with these small local outreach events. If you have like-new or gently-used children’s books that you would be willing to donate, please reach out to me (mal@atozliteracy.org). We are currently accepting preschool through middle school books for summer literacy events.

The Bond of Books

Over the past 12 months, I have spent time reflecting on relationship bonds–personal, professional, new, and old. While we have all felt the challenge of isolation to varying degrees throughout quarantine, I am sure we have also found new and unique ways to bond safely with others. Maybe it was Zoom, maybe prolonged FaceTime calls, or maybe even a socially distanced walk with a pal. Something I have enjoyed over the past year has been indulging in books and the bonds that different books have provided me with others. 

Some books have helped me bond with my son and my husband. Since having our son in July, my husband and I have spent almost every evening together reading Miles a bedtime story. It’s a ritual that we have fallen into which provides us quiet moments to bond together, just the three of us. Not only have we bonded during this time, but books have provided Miles an opportunity to bond with his extended family–everyone loves dropping off new books, sending them in the mail, or reading over a fun FaceTime call. 

Some books have helped me bond with my friends. This past year has been unlike any other–and passing along books and sharing recommendations has kept me attuned with my various friendships. Even if it was just to reach out and share a recommendation, or perhaps it was a surprise in the mail with a kind note, books have helped me to appreciate the things I already knew I loved about my friends–their passions, interests, etc. 

Some books have helped me bond with my colleagues. From the online professional development to graduate courses, books have guided my studies and allowed me to share ideas as an educator with my peers and fellow students. Not only have I gotten to know more about the content I teach (and how best to teach it), but these bonds have expanded into casual book clubs–exchanging books “just for fun” outside of our studies. 

Some books have helped me bond with online communities. This past year has been fraught with social unrest, and so many leaders and activists have recommended phenomenal books to learn (and unlearn) in order to improve myself and better contribute to improving my school, community, and country. I have found book clubs on Twitter, Instagram, etc., and been able to “connect” with other like-minded people. 

What all of these bonds have in common is that they’ve provided ways to ameliorate the challenges of the past year–whether it was indulging in a good book to transport me from the realities of Covid, or a book that enabled me to become a better person, or even the daily growth I watch my son making as my husband and I read to him.

By Alia Bluemlein

Take a Listen

Do you ever find it challenging to get into a book because you are unable to visualize the setting
and the characters and then you keep rereading the same paragraph over and over again? SAME!
I have found that listening to the audiobook while following along with the text version is a great
solution.


I had this epiphany while reading Becoming by Michelle Obama, thinking: “How great would it
be for Michelle Obama herself to be reading this to me?” Well, thank you, Audible. The audio
made reading so much more enjoyable because she was telling me her life story.
Another book I enjoyed listening to the audio with was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead,
which A to Z members read while participating in the National African American Read-In last
month. The audiobook was read by JD Jackson who did an amazing job of bringing emotion and
life to each character and I felt as if I had an easier time with painting scenes while listening.
I highly recommend checking out an audiobook because you may be pleasantly surprised!

Tip: if you have a library card, there are multiple apps like OverDrive, Libby, and Hoopla where you can borrow the audiobook
version without having to go to your library or having to pay for Audible!

(Thanks to Taylor Crandall for writing this week’s blog for A to Z.)

School of Hope – Part II

When reflecting on the trials and tribulations of the past year, something that stands out time and time again is the impact teachers have on their students. It is no different for our friends in Zambia. Despite the challenges Covid has presented for educators around the world, Hope College of Education, one of The School of Hope’s most recent endeavors, has continued to flourish and provide future educators with the tools and resources to continue making a difference in the lives of students in Zambia. 

Established in 2018, Hope College’s mission is “to provide a new paradigm of innovative, holistic teacher education that contributes positively to the development of the local and wider community.” There is an overwhelming need for teachers in Zambia-Unicef reports that over 60% of rural and 30% of urban orphans are not enrolled in school. Some classrooms have a 50:1 ratio. Not only are our friends inspiring future generations through “a college where the teaching approaches taught and modeled reflect student centered teaching,” they continue to help support current teachers in Zambia through their development of teacher training videos on YouTube. 

While we are so excited to resume our traditional fundraising efforts, in the meantime, we would like to continue to pass along opportunities for our friends here at home to support our friends in Zambia in a variety of ways. You can learn more about the innovative and inspiring things Hope College is doing by visiting their website, Facebook, and ways you can support the College here

School of Hope – Part I

This past year has highlighted so many challenges for so many, both at the micro and macro levels. Collectively, we have seen the tremendous difficulties that Covid has brought to our community here at home and the same can be said for our partners in Zambia. The School of Hope, which provides outstanding education for 660 students in grades K-12, has also been impacted by the pandemic. Over the next few weeks, we would like to highlight a few of their success stories and share more information about their important education work.

School of Hope has been a pillar of success in the Zambian community for the past 12 years. In fact, School of Hope came out #1 on the 2019 Grade 12 results out of 283 secondary schools in Central Province. (Grade 12 students finished the 2020 exams in December, and are waiting for the results.) The School has been generous with scholarships and financial assistance, and through this generosity, students who would otherwise not be able to attend receive an excellent education. Often, their #1 graduates have been those students receiving such assistance. Additionally, School of Hope has created a Pre-Vocational Program for those at the secondary level who struggle academically. Right now, students in this program have a period of English, a period of Consumer Math, and 2 periods of woodworking (learning how to build things in the school’s workshop). Each term, students will be working in different vocational areas. Unfortunately, school expenditures sometimes exceed the income due to the desire and generosity in making a difference in the lives of youth and young adults in Zambia. 

While A to Z Literacy Movement hasn’t been able to host our traditional silent auction fundraiser, we would love to pass along opportunities for our local community of supporters to directly help our friends at School of Hope in Zambia. Please consider checking out their website, Facebook page, and Instagram site for more details and we hope you would consider making a donation to support their amazing nonprofit charity. We will share more information next week!

A to Z Joins African American Read-In

The A to Z Literacy board consists of a passionate group of people who congregate regularly to fulfill the mission of the organization: to improve the lives of children through literacy development. Currently, our activities are primarily focused in Zambia, Africa and McHenry County, Illinois.  

Because our mission is to improve lives through literacy development, we are also committed to improving our own lives through literacy development.  Striving to learn and grow from each other, we end every board meeting sharing what we are currently reading. We are a team of readers. 

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to take an opportunity to learn and grow in new ways. This year, we decided to  join the National Council of the Teachers of English in their Annual African American Read-In. As a team, we made the commitment to read and discuss literature written by an African American author. 

Our first task in joining this Read-In was to choose which author and which book.  This was not an easy task! In the end, we generated a list and voted.  After selecting a book, we set our meeting dates and reading goals.

The first February weekend in Illinois was as expected: frigid. Wrapped in a down blanket with a freshly brewed cup of coffee clutched in one hand and the book in the other, I realized quickly that we made a great choice.

Colson Whitehead’s ability to draw in the reader is unparalleled. In the first chapter, Elwood Curtis stole my heart: competing in a dish-drying contest for a set of encyclopedias.  There’s no need to worry about meeting the reading goal before our first meeting date.  I’ve finished the book.  Now I have time to digest and think about what we really need to discuss. Can’t wait for the conversations to begin!