As a college student, I joined Pi Beta Phi Fraternity. It has since 1910 been committed to furthering literacy. To promote and accomplish this goal they became the first women's fraternity to create its own philanthropic project by proposing a settlement school for an area of great need.
That area was Gatlinburg. Since 1912 the Pi Beta Phi name has been attached to a Gatlinburg school and until the 1940s they supported for the school. Now Sevier County, the home of Dolly Parton, has assumed its support but Pi Beta Phi Elementary School still carries that name.
Reading literacy is the essential foundation for learning and success as an adult. Fifty percent of the nation's chronically unemployed are not functionally literate according to the Ohio Literacy Resource Center in 2003. Pi Beta Phi has remained committed to their goal for nearly one hundred years. This is dear to my heart as I have always loved reading. And having four children and twelve grandchildren, I am aware of how important it is for children to have books in their lives. I often give books as gifts, but not every family can afford that. Dolly Parton realized this and with her fortune and her influence took steps to see that every child in Tennessee will have books to read.
Pi Beta Phi developed a program called Champions are Readers, CAR, targeting third grade boys and girls who are at a critical juncture in developing both good reading skills and a lifelong love of reading. The program supplements reading activities already being provided in the schools and provides an easy-to-administer program for teachers.
Each collegiate chapter of Pi Beta Phi and each alumnae club can offer a reading enrichment program to their local schools and communities during a designated month of the school year and to provide incentives, including a recognition ceremony at its completion. Schools with a large number of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, or where a large percentage have English as a second language are most often targeted.
In 2006 a Fraternity Day of Service was introduced, intended to become an annual event to unite Pi Beta Phi women across America in the advancement of literacy. The National Education Association's Read Across America program was selected and Southwest Airlines joined the efforts for a spectacular beginning to the project.
On Dr. Seuss' March birthday we gathered at the Nashville International Airport where we donned Cat in the Hat hats - yes, those really tall red and white striped things! - and special red tee-shirts. Several hundred Dr. Suess books were given to children who came through the airport that day. Such an amazing experience! Parents were incredulous at receiving free books and the children's smiles were priceless. We had the Cat in the Hat with us, attracting a lot of looks and a bit of concern from some of the very young!
Southwest employees escorted us, giving us access to the concourses and waiting areas to look for children. March 2007 will again see our observance of this Day of Service. The work Pi Beta Phis do to foster a love of reading has taken many forms over the years and is sure to grow in the years to come. I will continue to support my fraternity's literacy project.
Our tee-shirts read “It's never too crazy, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child!” Believe it! It is true. I will also support the Books from Birth program and you can too. On the birthday of each of my children and grandchildren, I will give money to this program in their honor so that children not as lucky as they are will have their own books. For only $13.50 you can provide twelve books to a child. What an enduring gift. Call George or Linda McCrary at 699-2705 if you want to help. And read a book to a child today!