The Gift of Education

The Gift of Education

By Betty Trummel

Being a part of A to Z Literacy Movement for the past 11 years, and as a veteran educator with 40 years of experience, I know the value of literacy and education.  What a gift it is to have books, supplies, and the money to continue learning at any age, but particularly after high school.  When our daughter and her fiancé (now husband) were planning their wedding a couple of years ago, they decided to forgo the usual table favors and instead pay for someone’s education for the first semester of college. Linda and Brian asked me to search for one of my Zambian students who would be the right person to receive this scholarship. 

Isaac Phiri, a former student of Shine Zambia Reading Academy, (one of the places that I love doing the work of A to Z Literacy Movement), had very successful results from his grade 12 exams and wanted to further his studies. When I was in Zambia in July of 2018 Isaac and I sat and talked about what he wanted to pursue.  He shared his dream of studying environmental health and helping his country in new ways.  A connection was formed and Isaac soon had the funds to begin his college life at Evelyn Hone University in Lusaka, Zambia.

Isaac sharing his exam results with me in 2018

Fast forward a year, and Isaac has completed a full year of college; he is learning and growing his knowledge every single day!  Linda and Brian felt so fulfilled and inspired by his commitment and excitement for learning, that they decided to “go the distance” and fund all three years of his time at Evelyn Hone.  My husband and I help Isaac with living expenses beyond tuition and books, providing a monthly allowance for food.  You see, the gift of education for Isaac is also a gift back to Linda and Brian, Chris and myself.  The gift is the joy we get from helping others, providing education where none would have been possible for Isaac. 

Linda and Brian Benck have sponsored Isaac’s scholarship for college.

Isaac is just one of the many people I’ve met on my four trips to Zambia as part of A to Z Literacy.  It is incredible how we are touched by others in our lives, and how they help us see what is truly important…education is at the top of the list! Please read Isaac’s recent thank you to Linda and Brian.  It certainly reaches right out and grabs my heart, as I hope it will do the same for you.

“Dear Brian and Linda,

I wish to thank you for the support and help you are providing, for your dedication, attention and your readiness to help.

With your generosity my college education has become a reality.  Your generous donations will help me to accomplish my goals of obtaining a diploma in environmental health at Evelyn Hone College, a three-year course at one of the biggest colleges in Zambia.  Your help has given me the ability to focus on my coursework without any negative concern or lacking in school needs. 

Thank you for opening this door of an opportunity, it is a huge step for me. In January of 2019, I started my college, as a first-year student doing environmental health.  With your help everything went smoothly during my first year.  Nothing could have been as simple as they are today. My two semesters in college has been successful, for I never lacked.  I was successful because I have been learning new things, things I never knew before college. It’s been helping me to reach my goals, not just in doing environmental health, but also in other areas of life.

Thank you once again for making my career start to become true. Through you I have a huge hope of becoming a better person in my country. With this sponsorship I understand that without generous people like you, a college education would not be possible for students like me.  Knowing that someone elsewhere cares about my education motivates me to strive hard.

Let me also use this opportunity to wish you a happy and prosperous new year.  May God continue blessing and protecting you together with your family. In 2020 I will be in second year of my college.  I promise to work hard not to disappoint you.


Isaac Phiri”

Isaac and I…from my visit to Zambia in 2018.

Making a Difference

The holidays always bring a myriad of “to dos” and a flurry of activities to accomplish, and each year seems more and more hectic than the year before. Black Friday seems to begin earlier and earlier- and this year was no exception. Despite all of this, I find myself reflecting on how to be more mindful of prioritizing things. 

Today is a great opportunity to prioritize the importance of literacy development and education in the lives of children locally and abroad with #GivingTuesday. Giving Tuesday is global generosity initiative started in 2012 as a day to encourage people to do good things. Our mission, to provide literacy development and improve the lives of children globally, is something we couldn’t do without the support and generosity of people like you. We welcome your donations this #GivingTuesday in order to continue to support programs locally as well as abroad- from McHenry County to School of Hope in Zambia. A to Z is a 501(c)(3) and your donations are 100% deductible.

If you would prefer to send a check, please complete form and send it to:

A to Z Literacy Movement

PO Box 2483

Crystal Lake, IL  60039

As always, we thank you for your continued support and generosity. We hope you enjoy the holidays and look forward to seeing you all in the new year!

Another Successful Book Fair is in the Books!

By Taylor Crandall

girl choosing books

Another successful summer book fair is in the books! Last Thursday, we had the opportunity to hand out picture books and chapter books to 300 summer school students at Glacier Ridge Elementary School which is part of Crystal Lake Elementary District 47. Each student was able to pick three books which gave us a total of 900 books delivered to some very happy readers.

It felt so special to watch these students peruse through the assortment of books and find ones that sparked their interest. It felt even better when students then planted themselves in chairs (in the middle of the book fair) to start reading.

Happy summer reading!

Reflecting on the Zambia Trip

Our 2019 Zambia trip was a huge success! It’s been a day since touching back down in the States on Monday afternoon.  As the trip is freshly in my mind, I wanted to take some time to share my reflections.

Thoughts from a 30,000 ft. view

Looking at schooling in the big picture, there is very little difference from country to country. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. It seems as though we each follow a specific system, with some wiggle room on each side. Here are the core similarities…for the most part, we both have national bureaucratic challenges that get in the way of kids learning and teachers providing quality instruction. Initiatives. Forms. Laws. Tests. Funding. All major turbulence creators. Secondly, there are so many truly dedicated teachers in both Zambia and the U.S. I believe deeply in my heart that I have never met a teacher who did not first join the teaching ranks without having children’s best interest in their minds The majority of these teachers are digging in each and every day, giving their kids their whole heart. They walk out of their classrooms each afternoon knowing that they’ve given their best.

Finally, to the core, the amazing children. Each and every child naturally begins their life with a full tank of curiosity, wonder, and dreams. The words of “Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?” are constantly being asked, in an effort to fill the voids of understanding, connect the dots of the world around them, and build bridges between the unknown and the known.

Thoughts from the ground view

School is changing. There is a major movement happening at School of Hope. A shift in dynamics from passive learning to active learning. It’s happening in Crystal Lake as well. As technology permeates every corner of our world, even in the villages of Zambia, teachers have realized that they can no longer be the “keeper of knowledge”, “sage on the stage” or the “filler of vessels”. Information is a click or swipe away.

Knowing this, we readjust our focus onto the learning pyramid. My work this past week was to build the staff’s capacity in providing deeper learning opportunities for the students. To sit briefly at the top of the learning pyramid during a lesson so that the majority of the class time students are active in group discussions, practice and teaching each other. When students are in the lower half of the pyramid the levels of student collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skyrocket. I’ve experienced this happening for students and teachers in both Zambia and the U.S. Understand however, that this change is hard. Not all teachers and students like this change in dynamics because it’s not the way they’ve always done it. But, we’re doing it. Slowly. One teacher at a time. One child at a time. One classroom at a time. One school at a time. One village or town at a time. With your continued help and support, A to Z is making a difference in the lives of children. From America to Zambia.


Two Teen Perspectives


While A to Z team member Dave Keenan is teaching at School of Hope in Zambia this week, Dave and Mal Keenan’s son, Cole, has also been volunteering with Village of Hope and School of Hope. Additionally, many of our supporters know of Jonathan Mwale, the young man being sponsored by our organization, who will be attending Mulungushi University in August.  Cole and Jonathan sat down with Dave this afternoon and shared a few of their thoughts as teens from two different places. 

From Jonathan: I have noticed that each time we receive visitors from the states, they all have the same positive impression about our culture. We get credits of being respectful to one another regardless of age, skin color, tribe, etc. I feel like they experience a whole different lifestyle here which is very natural to me. Every time when visitors leave this place, they are not the same. It’s like they realize that there’s more to life than what they expected or have heard. I am thrilled to be in a position of being looked at as a model each and every time I speak to visitors. I have also realized that they challenge me to bring out the best of me. Recently, I was told to do my best and whatever happens next happens! It’s probably the best lesson of the month for me. I look forward to talking to more visitors.

From Cole: At School of Hope, the students are extremely respectful to all of the adults and have a lot of obedience to their teachers. Everyone is very kind and cares about the relationships they have with each other.  When students say “hello” to you, they ask how you are doing as well. I have learned so much about the culture and the way of life. I’m having a great time whether I’m in the classroom learning about chemistry with other 11th grade students, in the field picking maize with college kids home for holiday break, or working around the village in general. Traveling to Zambia has been quite an experience for me.


Back in Zambia

Kenyan Proverb

By Dave Keenan

Hello From Village of Hope!

I arrived in Zambia over the weekend and spent time conferring with School of Hope director, Kathleen, on Sunday about the upcoming week of professional learning. As we have done in years past, A to Z Literacy Movement strives to support partners with what is needed in terms of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This year our focus will be around math in grades 6 through 12 and how to best meet the needs of students.

Both the Village of Hope and the School of Hope are growing! The impact of the organization is mind-blowing. The school is a full Pre School through 12 along with Hope College of Education. As a member of a small nonprofit, I feel privileged to partner with this amazing ministry.

On a personal note, it was an interesting experience traveling here. As I traveled farther away from the States, I noticed the slower pace of life. It takes a few days to adjust, but the change in pace is so needed and beneficial for me.


Local Summer Volunteer Opportunity

Garden Quarter book

Good news! Summer Story Boost is back! This summer A to Z is partnering with Youth and Family Center of McHenry County. We are really excited for this once a week opportunity to read with kids and promote the love of literacy in a local setting.


The summer dates include Tuesday, June 11th, Tuesday, June 18th, Wednesday, July 10th, Wednesday, July 17th, Wednesday, July 24th, and Wednesday, August 7th from 3:00–4:00. We will be sharing a story or two with small groups of boys and girls while connecting to the weekly themes of the YFC summer program. If you would like more information about this volunteer opportunity, please email me at  And feel free to check out Youth and Family Center of McHenry County’s website to learn more about the organization.


A Final Reflection – Remembering A Decade In The Books

By Betty Trummel

Last year, 2018, as we started to look back at a decade of A to Z Literacy Movement we realized just how much of an impact we had had both locally and globally.  It’s often important to look “back to the future.”  Looking back gives us perspective and focus on how to move forward.  The future of A to Z Literacy looks very bright indeed!

Our Board, local students and supporters and volunteers have become woven into the fabric of our mighty little nonprofit!  Annual events are established, and so many people have FUN while raising money to get books into the hands of vulnerable children in McHenry County, other local areas, and around the world.



Whether it’s fundraisers such as “Libations for Literacy,” dodgeball tournaments at the District #47 local middle schools OR fiction/nonfiction “books in a bag” created by Crystal Lake AVID students or those at Monomoy High School in Harwich, Massachusetts, or the Christmas book drive at Good Shepherd Hospital…so many people help us reach our goals.  It takes a village…and thankfully our “village” continues to expand each year.



Maybe you can become a part of our village by volunteering to gather and sort books, help with a fundraiser, assist in giving away books at the free book fair at “The Clinic” at Immanuel Lutheran Church or District #47 Summer School book fair we host each year.  Maybe YOU have a great idea for our next successful fundraiser!  We can always use your help.



This year our five shipments of books (remember each shipment has SIX boxes of books!) were sent to Zambian schools in both the northern and southern provinces of the country, a first time shipment to a small library in Pakistan, and to two different Peace Corps volunteers working in Zambia…one from Crystal Lake (the home base of A to Z Literacy).




One of the highlights for me personally was traveling to Zambia for the fourth time to work with our partner schools – Shine Zambia Reading Academy, where I spent the majority of my time in central Lusaka, the capital of Zambia; and School of Hope, where Mal and fellow teaching colleague Ali Hammerstone concentrated their efforts in a more rural area where we have a deep connection to both the School of Hope and Village of Hope (an orphan village).



The three of us helped to provide professional development sessions at School of Hope’s inservice/workshop day with over 200 Zambian educators present.  What a powerful way to make a difference…truly inspirational to be a part of and witness.



We have been blessed with the opportunity to help others, but gain so much for ourselves…an appreciation for education around the world, the compassion of teachers in challenging circumstances, and the commitment to students and also their own professional learning.  WOW!


As we’ve already moved into 2019 … the wheels are spinning.  New projects are forming.  Your donations matter and go directly toward our mission.  We appreciate YOU, our supporters, our sponsors, and our friends in literacy.  Thank you so very much for choosing to walk this path with us!









And The Beat Goes On – Remembering A Decade in the Books


By Betty Trummel

In 2016, A to Z Literacy Movement had a busy year!  The first few months of the year was a flurry of local activity with students leading the way on many of the key initiatives.  Even at our 3rd annual Trivia Night fundraiser at Park Place in Crystal Lake, local high school students played a part in hosting the evening.

In March a unique event was held at Betty’s house, with her former 4th grade students stealing the show with “There’s Music in the House.”  Their musical performances raised hundreds of dollars for spring shipments of books.


April dodgeball tournaments at both Bernotas and Hannah Beardsley Middle Schools raised $2,100 for A to Z Literacy Movement.




Just before school ended for the year, Crystal Lake Central AVID students created “Paired Texts – Books in a Bag” projects for students at School of Hope. These colorful and lively books and stuffed animals were sure to be a hit.


When school was out in June, it meant it was time to travel to Zambia to provide professional development for Zambian educators.  While Betty stayed in the capital city of Lusaka and concentrated on Shine Zambia Reading Academy, Mal and Dave served at the rural School of Hope.



The three of them came together to help provide a professional development workshop at School of Hope that supported over 150 Zambian educators.


Their time in Zambia was rewarding and brought such positive outcomes for both students and teachers in challenging school situations.  Our work continued to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable students in Zambia.



But wait…our work wasn’t only focused on Zambia.  In July a free book fair was held for District #47 Summer School students at Glacier Ridge Elementary School in Crystal Lake.  Another free book fair for over 100 students in grades 1-5 took place Coventry Elementary School.



And, later in the fall A to Z Literacywas also on hand at the Immanuel Lutheran Clinic to hand out books to children and families.  Our outreach to local families was strong!


A fall fundraiser at the Crystal Lake Brewery raised funds for a shipment of books to be sent to the Philippines.


Later in the fall we hosted the “A to Z Hunger Bowl” fundraiser at Metro Bowl in Crystal Lake.  Money raised at this even benefitted the Shine Zambia Reading Academy school lunch program.



Once again, we ended our year with a successful Christmas Book Drive at Good Shepherd Hospital.  2016 was a great year for A to Z Literacy Movement.

Highlights of 2017 included a lot of local outreach and fundraising…again with students often in the lead.

** February: “Libations for Literacy” fundraiser was held at Park Place.


** March: South Elementary School in Crystal Lake raised $1,200 for A to Z during their “Coins for a Cause” fundraiser.

** Dodgeball Tournaments at Bernotas and Hannah Beardsley Middle Schools raised over $3,000 for A to Z Literacy Movement.


** May:  Crystal Lake Central AVID students created “Paired Texts—Books in a Bag” for students at School of Hope.


** July:  Free book fair at Glacier Ridge for 300 students attending District #47 Summer School



** October: Our free book fair was a success at “The Clinic” at Immanuel Lutheran Church.


In July Mal traveled to Zambia to continue our mission at School of Hope, which is part of All Kids Can Learn International.  Her relationship with the educators at this school continued to grow, and also the connection with Jonathan Mwale, our scholarship student stayed strong.  It’s wonderful to see the growth of students and teachers over a longer period of time, and we believe that these deeper relationships and connections make us unique.  A to Z strives to foster collaboration and give teachers in Zambia the tools they need to be better teachers.


Since Betty had now moved to Cape Cod, she started to grown A to Z’s “East Coast Connection.” She organized a partnership with Harwich Elementary School in her new hometown in Massachusetts and linked with The Family Pantry of Cape Cod. Harwich Elementary hosted a book drive and the results were fantastic.


  • 1,200 books were collected and donated.
  • 300 new books were placed in holiday gift bags and given out at The Family Pantry.
  • Over 900 books went into the Family Pantry “boutique” which benefits those visiting the Family Pantry
  • 35 nonfiction books were saved to bring to Shine Zambia in 2018.


December brought a lot of holiday cheer and our annual Christmas book drive at Good Shepherd Hospital that once again brought in many book donations for our shipments.


Donations to A to Z are what keeps us going!

Hitting Our Stride – Remembering a Decade in the Books

By Betty Trummel

In 2014, A to Z Literacy Movement really hit its stride as an organization.  We had established certain routines and programs, local fundraisers and events, and our work in Zambia was branching out and reaching more teachers and students.

In February we hosted our first annual Trivia Night fundraiser at Park Place in Crystal Lake.  Twelve boxes of books were sent to Ghana and northern Zambia.  The Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers Club made a generous donation that enabled A to Z to send another two shipments of books to Zambia.  


The National Jr. Honor Society at both Bernotas and Lundahl Middle Schools organized Walk-a-thons and raised over $3,000.  Bernotas also held its first annual dodgeball tournament, raising enough money for another shipment of books to a Zambian school.


Local outreach projects touched the lives of McHenry County children with Summer Story Boost volunteers reading with children every Tuesday afternoon during the summer at Garden Quarter in McHenry, and five boxes of books being donated to the School District #47 Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee.  These books were given to families attending a meeting at the end of the school year.

Other fundraising initiatives included a CrAtoZy Sock Day at a local school; the Saver’s A to Z Literacy partnership with 8,677 pounds of clothes and household goods donated to Savers and bringing in funds to our organization.  Book donations continued and we capped off the year with the Santa Christmas Book Drive at Good Shepherd Hospital.  


Our biggest outreach of the year included four educators, Mal, Betty, Pat Kelly, and Becky Roehl traveling to Zambia for two weeks during the summer. 



They continued work at Shine Zambia Reading Academy and partnered with rural School of Hope/All Kids Can Learn International. 



One of the key events included being part of a professional development workshop at School of Hope that brought in teachers from rural areas and give them the opportunity to keep learning more about teaching methods and best practices.  2014 was a fantastic year for A to Z Literacy! We continued to be grateful for our supporters!


As 2015 rolled around, our first big event was the second annual Trivia Night fundraiser at Park Place.  Our early February date for our largest fundraiser of the year was solidly in place and we were building on our successful model of years past.  

Additional fundraising and local projects included our partnership with Saver’s in Crystal Lake for their “Choose Your Cause” program. 


Woods Creek Elementary 5th graders raised $550 for A to Z during a “Coins for a Cause” fundraiser. Middle schools continued raising money with Walk-a-thons and dodgeball.  




In November “Brewery for Books” at the Crystal Lake Brewery raised funds for a late fall shipment of books to a Zambian preschool.  Linda Trummel was able to choose A to Z as the recipient of a large donation in honor of an industry award she earned.  And, once again, our Christmas book drive at Good Shepherd Hospital was a hit!


In June Mal and Dave Keenan traveled to Zambia to partner with School of Hope. 


Not only did they teach in classrooms at that school, but they provided a professional development workshop at School of Hope for over 150 Zambian educators. 


Opportunities like this helped us grow as an organization because we furthered our own learning in the process and we brought that back to our local communities.



Highlights of the year:

  • 57 boxes of books to Zambia, Ghana, Swaziland, and the Dominican Republic
  • 27 boxes of books collected, sorted and donated to local groups in McHenry County
  • 6,000 books total donated!  Wow!

Meanwhile, 88% of the contributions went to:

  • 4 Zambian student scholarships to continue with grades 10-12
  • 6 months of school lunches at Shine Zambia Reading Academy
  • Professional development for over 150 Zambian teachers


Our mighty little nonprofit continued to make a big difference in the lives of at risk and impoverished children in Zambia and those children who are at risk locally.  There was a LOT to be proud of!