"2/3 of fourth graders who struggle to read will end up in jail or on welfare."
— WriteExpress Corporation, Accessed June 2015
Read USA began as a voluntary project created by Ellen Wiss and teacher Vanessa Tussey at George Washington Carver Elementary School. As a tutor in Vanessa’s classroom, Ellen witnessed the gains from some of the most struggling students and became hopeful and passionate about expanding the impact for transformational change in one severely impoverished neighborhood. Asking Vanessa what was needed most, her response was “this school has never had a book fair and kids need books. Parents care about their kids, but they don’t have the resources to organize and run a book fair like traditional PTA’s in more affluent schools. Even if they could organize the fair, the kids don’t have the resources to buy the books. Think about it, when you’re faced with keeping a roof over your family or putting food on the table, books don’t rank. Our kids don’t have books of their own. And, book ownership is key. When kids can read, they can succeed.” Together, they successfully carried the project out with funds they raised from private donors and additional volunteers they recruited from established education organizations, non-profits and several corporate sponsors.
With a formal partnership with City Year Jacksonville, Scholastic, and now Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance for providing jobs to struggling teens. Expanding the board with committed leaders, and the continued collaboration with many more partners, they are now serving most all of Duval County’s highest need elementary schools and many community centers. The vision is to scale the model throughout the country one day.
The goal is to put books in the hands of every low-income child, employ struggling young teen tutors as leaders, promote the love of reading and learning, and to end the cycle of poverty.
Ellen A. Wiss
Ellen is a real estate management/marketing professional (President, Homkor Florida) and community volunteer. She has led several nonprofit efforts in the areas of education and social justice. She serves as Co-Chair of Florida Women’s Funding Alliance (an affinity group of The Florida Philanthropic Network), President Emeritus of the Women’s Giving Alliance, Founder/President of Read USA, Inc., and serves the boards of City Year, Teach For America, Hubbard House Foundation, World Affairs Council, serves the Steering Committees for Beaches Community Fund, Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Initiative, Mayor’s Youth at Work Partnership, serves the Kids Hope Alliance Literacy Task Force, serves as a trustee member of Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and serves as a Development Committee member for The Jacksonville Public Education Fund. She is a leader for Lift Jax (formerly #nopovertyjax), an all sector movement aligned with global, national and state 2030 agendas around the common agenda for eradicating poverty in all of its forms. Ellen collaborates with other nonprofits working to improve literacy, education and health opportunities for low-income youth and families, women and girls. Ellen, is married to husband Jim and has three children.
In 2009, Vanessa Tussey was placed at George Washington Carver Elementary School as a Teach For America Corps Member. She stayed beyond her two-year Teach For America commitment, teaching at the school for three years. During her time teaching in this high-needs, high-poverty school, she was selected Teacher of the Year by her peers, with her students enjoying some of the highest learning gains in the district. She led students to achieve outstanding growth and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Facing a severe budget crisis, she wrote grants and raised money to purchase needed classroom books, supplies, and technology. She worked with Ellen Wiss to bring George Washington Carver its first ever book fair, providing every student with books to read over the summer. In 2016, Vanessa graduated from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law at the top of her class. While in law school, she served as a Teaching Assistant, teaching a class on the Civil Rights Movement to undergraduate students alongside the President of Ohio State University and the Dean of the law school. Vanessa is currently serving as a law clerk to Judge William P. Dimitrouleas, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida. She is fiercely passionate about Read USA’s mission and the transformational impact she has seen firsthand.