This Week at READ USA

Multicultural Literacy

An Enchanting Evening with Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole

  • Read USA Inc.
  • March 27 2024


“Everyone in this room, got to where they are today, because of reading.



There are few in this world who can deliver those words with as much power as Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole does. And just as deeply as she meant it, everyone in the room last night was grateful to feel the truth of that statement.

Dr. Cole graciously took the time to speak and autograph copies of her Jeremy’s Journey biography during a special READ USA reception at the Ritz Theatre & Museum, a perfect setting for the occasion. READ USA was privileged to honor and host Dr. Cole and so many guests at the Ritz, including Mayor Donna Deegan who ensured she was able to attend to honor and recognize Dr. Cole’s ever-rippling impact on the global community as well.

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To experience Dr. Cole’s commitment to literacy and our youth fills the READ USA team with enormous gratitude, and particularly so for her embrace and support of READ USA’s programming that is helping every young person we encounter to – just like Dr. Cole said – get to where they want to be.

We are thankful for Mayor Deegan’s attendance last night, and for our special guests including Dr. Cole’s husband, J.D., and her brother, John Thomas Betsch, Jr. Many thanks as well to the team at the Ritz Theatre & Museum for helping create an enchanting evening.

Also: Dr. Cole’s Jeremy’s Journey biography is available to order! Click here to learn more about Dr. Cole’s influence in Jacksonville and far beyond.


The Best $12 Deal in Town

Look no further than READ USA for the best return on $12 today!

Two Books + Activity Guides for $12 = One Lifelong Reader & Learner

For $12 per student, you can give an elementary student the ability to choose and own two free, brand-new books at the upcoming READ USA Book Fairs – plus receive reading activity guides and family resources!

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READ USA Book Fairs are intentional in leveling the playing reading field by giving every Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) elementary student the opportunity to choose and own their own books. With over 60% of low-income households having zero books in them, many students are deprived of the opportunity to read, learn, and expand their minds while at home. This is precisely why READ USA launched our free Book Fairs over a decade ago, and we have since put more than 780,000 books in a quarter-million students’ hands and homes.

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All 51,000+ DCPS elementary students will participate in the READ USA Book Fairs starting in April, so now is the perfect opportunity to invest $12 in a student’s life and future.

Sponsor a Student

Your Chance to Give Back…and Have Fun!  

Just ask our dedicated volunteers: volunteering at READ USA Book Fairs is a rewarding experience that gives you the opportunity to give back AND have fun! BookFair_Volunteers_5_large Starting in April, READ USA Book Fairs will kick off at all 100 DCPS elementary schools, reaching 51,000 elementary students. Volunteers are the backbone support to our staff in running these book fairs, fulfilling essential tasks that include:

  • Guiding young students through the book fair, helping them select books that interest them, and helping write their names in their brand-new books!
  • Supporting teachers and READ USA staff with keeping students and books organized during the Book Fair.
  • Book Fair set-up and pack-up.

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If there is a school in your neighborhood where you’d like to volunteer, or a specific date that works best for your schedule, let us know.

Book Fair Dates (Locations to be released soon)

  • April 3rd – 5th
  • April 8th – 12th
  • April 29th – May 3rd
  • May 6th – May 10th
  • May 13th – May 17th
  • May 20th – May 24th

We hope you will join us at a Book Fair and experience the same joy we do!

Volunteer at a Book Fair!

Birdies (and maybe some Bogies) for Literacy

READ USA is honored to be one of eight local beneficiaries of the Second Annual Vested Metals Charity Golf Tournament, held in memory of John Mark Leach on Monday. During the evening dinner reception, Dr. Kelly graciously accepted a tremendous $8,400 donation as a result of tournament, which raised well over $70,000 in total!


Focused on “The Next Generation” to specifically assist youth and their families for the 2024 tournament, the Vested Community Foundation selected READ USA because of our mission to develop grade-level readers, teen leaders, and transformational teachers in Northeast Florida. The Vested Community Foundation first heard about READ USA during last year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast in St. Johns County, when READ USA was mentioned. They then decided to support READ USA as part of this year’s tournament – and we are so grateful, not only for the donation, but for how they sought us out after hearing about us!

We are also grateful to our READ USA team members, including Board Chair Ellen Wiss and Book Programs Director Stephanie Darilus, MPA, for volunteering during the tournament at the putting competition.

Our tremendous thanks go to the Vested Metals and Vested Community Foundation teams and to all of the golf tournament participants for your embrace and support of literacy in our community and READ USA!

Dr. Rob Kelly Presents to Unitarian Universalist Church

Last weekend, our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly was invited to speak to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville’s congregation about the power of literacy – and particularly the positive impacts of reading fiction on the brain – and READ USA.

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While many members of the congregation are no stranger to READ USA, they welcomed the opportunity to hear about the latest impact READ USA is having on closing the literacy gap in Duval County, as they are highly attuned to issues facing the Jacksonville community.

Over the years, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville has been an incredible supporter and advocate for READ USA through donations and volunteering during our annual Book Fairs and other events throughout the year. We are thankful for the church’s leadership and the congregation’s ongoing support of READ USA, and our particular gratitude goes to Peter Racine, senior vice president of the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation and a lay pastor at the church, and Meg Rohal, a dedicated READ USA volunteer and president of the church’s Board of Directors. Peter and Meg have long been supporters of READ USA and they are both pillars of the Jacksonville community!

During the presentation, Dr. Kelly discussed the importance of reading fiction, particularly the theory of mind and how reading fiction has shown evidence in cultivating empathy in the human brain. He specifically shared a clip from a TEDx talk by Rita Carter, “Why Reading Matters,” in which she discusses the correlation between empathy and reading fiction. Rita Carter is a writer, broadcaster, and journalist who specializes in the workings of the human brain.

If you are interested in learning more about this connection, you can watch her full 14-minute TEDx talk here.

Thank you again to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville leadership and congregation for welcoming Dr. Kelly and READ USA into your church, hearts, and minds!

READ USA Included in Doctoral Dissertation Defense at UNF

This past Monday was a celebratory one for READ USA on many different fronts!

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Our CEO Dr. Rob Kelly served as one of four professors on UNF graduate student Talya Taylor’s Dissertation Committee. Her Dissertation for UNF’s College of Education and Human Services focused on exploring the experiences of teenage tutors who implemented a tutoring program with elementary students. Clearly, Dr. Kelly was a natural fit to serve on her committee – but that’s not all.

Soon-to-be-officially Dr. Taylor focused on the following research questions, for which she used READ USA Literacy Tutoring data to support her research:

  • How do competence, relatedness, and autonomy impact teenage tutors’ implementation of a one-to-one reading tutoring program with elementary student tutees?
  • How does journaling contribute to the teenage tutors’ implementation of one-to-one reading tutoring sessions with elementary student tutees?

Our entire READ USA team is so proud that she used READ USA’s Literacy Tutoring data to not only further her work on her doctoral degree, but also how her research can help READ USA further reflect upon and refine our programming in the future. Her work was truly a win-win for her own education and for the teens and elementary students READ USA supports!

Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for your dedicated hard work, insights, and for choosing READ USA to be a part of your educational journey and accomplishments! 

Children’s Book: The Artist and Me, by Shane Peacock

Did you know that this Saturday, March 30th is Vincent van Gogh’s birthday?ArtistandMe_large

An elderly gentleman compiling a scrapbook looks back on his childhood in the south of France, specifically the time spent tormenting an eccentric, impoverished artist, hurling insults and joining in the laughter of the adults’ ridicule. But the bullying was a front, hiding the boy’s fascination with this artist (whom readers come to discover is Vincent van Gogh). It’s not until the boy faces his victim alone that he realizes there is more than one way to see the world.

Vincent van Gogh is now known as an acclaimed, incomparable Post-Impressionist painter. But when he lived in Arles, France, in the 1880s, he was mocked for being different. Back then, van Gogh was an eccentric man with wild red hair who used clashing hues to paint unusual-looking people and strange starry skies. Children and adults alike called him names and laughed at him. Nobody bought his art. But he kept painting.

The author, Shane Peacock, uses first-person narrative and the story is framed as the scrapbook’s text. Artwork in the book uses vibrant color and texture to bring the laneways, cafés, and wheat fields of southern France to life while playing on scenes from van Gogh’s own work. The lyrical text carries the emotional weight of the subject and will leave readers with the understanding that everyone’s point of view is valuable.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: Raising Readers – What Parents Can Do

Learning to read takes practice. Loving to read takes enthusiasm!

Read with your child often and create a sense of enjoyment, wonder, and a passion for reading. Here are some tips for parents to do so:

  1. Read together every day. You can read the morning news at breakfast, share a story after supper, or cuddle up for a book at bedtime. A daily reading routine is something everyone can look forward to.
  2. Talk and build vocabulary. Interesting conversations build vocabulary, language skills, and knowledge about the world. Talk is a child’s best source of exposure to new words and ideas.
  3. Model reading. Kids want to do what the grownups do. Make sure your children get to see you reading and hear you talk about it.
  4. Point out print. Read and talk about the words you see in the world around you. There’s lots to read—signs, recipes, cereal boxes, instruction manuals, bus schedules, news, maps, and menus.
  5. Visit the library. Take advantage of all the books, materials, story times, programs, and resources your local library has to offer.
  6. Create a reading-rich home. Find books at the bookstore or yard sales. Provide a special shelf or basket for children to keep their own books and one for library books. Make sure there are quiet, comfortable places to read.
  7. Encourage your child’s reading. Praise the efforts of a soon-to-be or beginning reader. Make sure schedules of older readers include time for reading for pleasure.
  8. Keep books handy. Stash books in your bag to read aloud when you travel or have to wait at restaurants or for appointments. Or keep eBooks on your phone.
  9. Have fun. Your idea of fun may differ from your child’s, so appreciate your child’s special joy for learning new things. Try different approaches, such as having them read to you or acting out a favorite story. Even something as simple as a story time outside can make reading together livelier and more memorable for you and your child.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Do you have any questions or ideas for the Parent Education Corner? Anything you’d like to learn? Let us know here!