This Week at READ USA

Jeremy's Journey

Ronnie Gadio, 2024 READ to Be Free Award Honoree

  • Read USA Inc.
  • June 26 2024

Ronnie Gadio JJ Book 3

READ USA Teen Tutor Ronnie Gadio is our 2024 READ to Be Free Award Honoree! Recognized at our upcoming Peace in the Pages in Honor of Roseann Duran luncheon on Oct. 2, the READ to Be Free Award honors an individual who uplifts the connection between the individual empowerment that comes from literacy and freedom. As George Washington Carver once said, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom,” and our award recipient is also someone who fully embodies this ideal.

As one of six children – and the only one born in the United States – Ronnie was born in Jacksonville in 2005 and has grown up as a lifelong Jaxson (so far!). His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 from Senegal in West Africa, bringing Ronnie’s two older brothers and three older sisters with them. “They are hardworking, loving parents, but they could never read books with me. They speak mainly Pulaar, their native language, and only read Arabic. It was my brother, Baidy, who read to me and helped me with my homework,” Ronnie told Jeremy, our fictional Jeremy’s Journey storyteller, for his book.

“After Baidy left for college at FAMU, my oldest brother, Ali, got me interested in non-fiction books. I’ve read about human psychology, which has impacted me – helping to shape me into the person I am today,” Ronnie also shared with Jeremy.

Ronnie attended John Love Early Learning Center and R. L. Brown Gifted and Talented Academy, and just recently graduated from Raines High School. Since he was in 10th grade, Ronnie has been a READ USA tutor at North Shore Elementary School. He spends 40 minutes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays with three students each day, and he shared with Jeremy that he has become close to his students and is proud of their reading progress. He celebrates this reading growth with his students, telling Jeremy, “I try to be a good example and a leader with READ USA – like being a big brother for the younger students to follow. Learning to read is a pathway to success for them and for me.” Ronnie has credited being a READ USA tutor with improving his own reading skills as well, and he now reads books for pleasure, self-help, and learning.

Ronnie Gadio JJ Book 2 Ronnie Gadio JJ Book 5 Ronnie Gadio JJ Book 4

However, Ronnie has taken what he learned as a tutor one giant step further: he tutors his father in English as well. It started his sophomore year, when he went through READ USA tutor training, and he brought home some training materials to show his dad. “That was when I discovered that my father knew every sound in the alphabet. He knew his letters, so I knew he had the potential to learn.” Since that time, his father has quickly caught on and has improved his English – all thanks to Ronnie’s dedication.

Today, having learned a lot about literacy and leadership during his time as a READ USA tutor, Ronnie feels that an important part of leadership is being honest with others and himself, which leads to doing the right thing. He has encouraged his peers to join the Literacy Tutoring program as tutors as well. “READ USA is great,” Ronnie told Jeremy. “It helps you with real life and teaches you how to deal with children and earn their respect. It has helped me become a better reader and a better person – 100%.”

And we are 100% confident that you will continue to soar in college and in life beyond, Ronnie! As you embark on your college journey at the University of North Florida this summer, we wish you tremendous success!

You can read more about Ronnie by ordering his Jeremy’s Journey book here for $20/copy and coordinating pickup with READ USA.

We look forward to the 2024 Peace in the Pages in Honor of Roseann Duran event on Oct. 2 at EverBank Stadium. Stay tuned for our final 2024 Peace in the Pages award honoree feature next week!

City Hall Welcomes Summer Leadership Academy Tutors  

Last week, the tutors in our Summer Leadership Academy participated in something extra special: a visit to City Hall to meet and hear from Jacksonville’s leaders! And not only that, but they had the opportunity to experience a City Council meeting, witnessing topics that directly impact our city being discussed in real-time. It was quite an immersive experience!

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The afternoon at City Hall kicked off with a tour of the Office of the Mayor and City Council chambers. Following this, leaders from Mayor Donna Deegan’s administration conducted a panel discussion moderated by our CEO Dr. Robert Kelly. Even leadership who weren’t scheduled to attend popped in to share their perspectives with the tutors and answer questions!

Tutors asked a number of questions about how local government operates, the career paths of the leaders present, any advice for teenagers entering college, and how young citizens can be more involved at the local level. They even heard from some city leaders who didn’t plan on a career in city government but talked about their journeys to their current positions in public service today.

“Overall, it was amazing,” said Ashlea Jones, READ USA’s Workforce Development Director who oversees the Summer Leadership Academy. “One of the speakers, Pat, shared how she was a major community advocate in the 70’s and 80’s. She said she went from being boots on the ground outside City Hall to now wearing heels inside City Hall. The tutors absolutely loved hearing that!”

The READ USA team is so grateful to the leaders who took valuable time to join us last week! Many thanks to:

  • Dr. Parvez Ahmed, Chief of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Charles Griggs, Director of Community Initiatives
  • Pat McCollough, Special Assistant to the Mayor on Civic Engagement and Youth Participation
  • Dr. Tracye Polson, Director of Strategic Partnerships
  • Lynn Sherman, Executive Director of Health Programs

We are also very grateful to Mayor Donna Deegan and our City Council members for hosting our tutors and giving them a first-hand look at city government!

Check out some photos from last week’s City Hall visit and stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks.

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READ USA Celebrates VyStar Foundation President Patricia McElroy

Last week, the READ USA team had the opportunity to celebrate a person who is a tremendous force for doing good in our community: VyStar Foundation President Patricia McElroy!

Patti McElroy JJ Book Reception – 6.20 (6) Patti McElroy JJ Book Reception – 6.20 (23)

Patricia met Jeremy, the fictional storyteller of our Jeremy’s Journey book series, a couple months ago and her book was officially launched last week during a private reception at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) downtown. The location was intentional, as it is the exact same location where Patti – as she told Jeremy to call her – “met” with Jeremy in front of Artist Frank Stella’s “Jacksonville Stacked Stars” sculpture in MOCA’s atrium. In her book, Patti pointed up at the sculpture and said, “Jeremy, always aim for the stars!”

Patti has lived an exceptional life journey. From being an avid reader at a young age to producing a community newsletter at 10 years old, Patti excelled in school and was active in many extracurricular activities. After graduating from law school and becoming a commercial litigator for 15 years, Patti decided to attend divinity school and became an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

“It was like a light went off in my brain,” Patti told Jeremy. “With everything I read, I realized we are all talking about the same things: goodness, light, and pursuing the truth. The mistake is in not recognizing the divine spark in each of us. We are all created in the image of God. Everything I learned takes me back to the goodness that resides in other people. Trust the goodness. Trust that it is true.”

 Patti McElroy JJ Book Reception – 6.20 (19) Patti McElroy JJ Book Reception – 6.20 (13)

Her career pursuits led her to North Carolina and then to Washington state before coming to Jacksonville to join Baptist Health in 2016 to run the hospital’s spiritual care department. She and her colleagues founded the “Rest and Revive” program during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the pressure and stress experienced by the medical staff. She then joined VyStar Credit Union in 2021 as Senior Vice President and President of the VyStar Foundation, leading the philanthropic and community engagement efforts in VyStar’s communities.

We are immensely grateful to VyStar Credit Union for sponsoring the reception and to MOCA for hosting us! Many thanks to Patti for signing copies of her book during the event, and also to VyStar President/CEO Brian Wolfburg for his fabulous introduction of Patti during the event! It was a fun and inspiring evening to remember!

For $20, you can order a copy of Patti’s Jeremy’s Journey book here and coordinate pickup with READ USA.

Applause for our READ USA Volunteers!

Last night, we were honored to celebrate and recognize the exceptional individuals who give their time and energy to help close the literacy gap in our community by volunteering with READ USA!

 Group Photo of Award Winners1

During our annual Volunteer Appreciation Event last night, we had the opportunity to give five awards to some tremendously dedicated and generous individuals and institutions:

Above and Beyond Award: NaQuita Council

NaQuita Council HeadshotNaQuita_IMG_8544The Going Above and Beyond Award recognizes a volunteer who has demonstrated exceptional effort and dedication, often exceeding our expectations. NaQuita is an amazing mother, friend, sister, and peer, and she is a beacon of light and inspiration who helps anyone she comes in contact with. She leaves each person with a word of advice, such as “Keep striving” or “Time is of the essence.” NaQuita enjoys life, believes in traveling with her three daughters, and dedicates her time to the READ USA community.

Bringing Others Along Award: VyStar Credit Union 

VyStar Logo w_ TagIMG_8555The Bringing Others Along Award recognizes an organization that provides invaluable support to READ USA programs, sending many of its team members to volunteer and expanding our capacity. VyStar Credit Union has been an invaluable partner of READ USA, supporting our programs and staff in numerous ways. Every year, VyStar has sent volunteers to many of our READ USA Book Fairs, and this year alone, they sent over 20 volunteers to multiple schools. Sarah Kurtz, VyStar’s Volunteer Engagement Coordinator, who is responsible for coordinating these incredible volunteers, accepted the award on VyStar’s behalf.

Most Volunteer Hours Award: Alexis Laury

Alexis Laury HeadshotAlexis_IMG_8563This year, READ USA planned 100 Book Fairs, a feat we could not have accomplished without the incredible dedication of our volunteers. Whether it’s one hour or 100 hours, our volunteers have put their hearts and souls into making these Book Fairs successful. The Most Volunteer Hours Award recognizes the individual who has logged the highest number of volunteer hours during the READ USA Book Fair season, honoring someone who reliably attends scheduled volunteers shift, maintains a positive attitude, collaborates effectively with staff, and consistently fulfills their commitments.

This year’s recipient is Alexis Laury, a mother of five and a grandmother of two who has overcome many challenges in her life. She is a certified master coach and owns multiple businesses, including body contouring, hairstyling, and journal creation. Additionally, she serves as the Vice Chair of the Policy Council for Lutheran Services Florida. Alexis began volunteering at our READ USA Book Fairs in 2022 and this year, she dedicated an astounding 169 hours! She attended Book Fairs almost every day during all six weeks, often serving as a lead at multiple schools. Her professionalism and organizational skills have been praised by volunteers and school leadership alike.

Rookie of the Year Award: Mary Harris

Mary Harris HeadshotMary IMG_8574The Rookie of the Year Award is presented to a new volunteer who has started with READ USA within the school calendar year, has shown exceptional engagement and dependability, and actively participates in various volunteer activities. Mary Harris is a retired U.S. Navy veteran who served with the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of Attorneys as a paralegal. After her military retirement in September 2003, she continued to work with other state agencies. She is now enjoying her new path in life, working with the children enrolled in our Literacy Tutoring program. Mary’s commitment and enthusiasm for READ USA have been truly inspiring. Her reliability, versatility, and leadership make her a deserving recipient of the Rookie of the Year Award.

Volunteer of the Year: Ashley Goggins Blue

Ashley Goggins Blue HeadshotMary IMG_8580The Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes an individual who exemplifies consistency, impact, leadership, commitment, collaboration, innovation, a positive attitude, and longevity in their service to READ USA. This award is a testament to the outstanding dedication and hard work of a volunteer who has made a significant impact on our programs and events throughout the year.

Ashley Goggins Blue is a multi-passionate entrepreneur and attorney specializing in family law and probate. Ashley is deeply committed to making a difference in the community through her time, talent, and treasure. For almost a decade, she has served as a Guardian Ad Litem Volunteer Attorney, advocating for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by their guardians. She currently serves on the Executive Board of Directors at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and is an active member of Impact Church. Outside of her professional life, Ashley balances her roles as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, mentor, and changemaker. She has volunteered with READ USA for over two years, and throughout her involvement, she has dedicated many hours to promoting children’s literacy.

Congratulations to all of our tremendously well-deserving award winners! We were thrilled to honor and celebrate you last night. READ USA is also grateful to VyStar Credit Union for generously donating the space for our event.

Children’s Book: A Quiet Place, by Douglas Wood

Illustrated by Dan AndreasenBook_A Quiet Place

Sometimes the world is just too busy and too noisy! Grown-ups talking and talking, “engines roaring,” and so many other sounds can make your ears almost ache. When the world around you gets too noisy, it is time to find a “quite place”—a place where you can think your own thoughts and feel your own feelings. If you crawl under the lilac bush in the yard, you can imagine that you are “a pirate finding treasure on a desert island?” What if you go to the seaside? There you can pretend that you are an explorer discovering a new land, and if you go to sit next to the pond you can imagine yourself being “the world’s greatest fisherman” who catches an enormous fish.

In all the places where you could go, there are imaginings to imagine, explorations and adventures to pretend, and peace to be found. And if the lilac bush, the cave, the pond, the library, or the museum aren’t quite right for you, then you can go home to your room and enjoy the best quiet place of all, the place which never leaves you—the one that's inside of you.

This thought-provoking picture book creates a mood of great peace and inner quiet. It shows us all, no matter how old we are, that we do not have to travel far to find the quiet place that we sometimes need. It explores the wonder of a child’s imagination, and with Dan Andreasen’s soft and atmospheric artwork, the reader is carried off to all sorts of worlds where wonderful things can happen.

Submitted by Kathi Hart, READ USA Content Specialist

Parent Education Corner: Full & Consolidated Alphabetic Phase 

Helping Your Child Become a Reader

The Parent Corner is continuing to provide information to parents/caregivers about how you can help young learners become readers and writers.

This week’s information builds upon last week by focusing on: Why is my child sometimes reluctant to sound out unknown words? What should I do when this happens?

We are continuing with the research of Linnea C. Ehri. Her research suggests that children move through four phases on their way to becoming joyful, confident readers. The phases are Pre-Alphabetic Phase, Partial Alphabetic Phase, Full Alphabetic Phase and Consolidated Alphabetic Phase. Understanding these phases will help us recognize how to support our children when they are reluctant readers.

This week, we will review Ehri’s last two phases the Full Alphabetic Phase and the Consolidated Alphabetic Phase.

  1. Full Alphabetic Phase

It is an exciting time when your child gets to the phase where they start to sound out words on their own. It can sometimes be hard for parents to remember what those early days of reading were really like. Children can make many mistakes as they learn to read (even the same ones over and over again), and you may find it hard to believe how slowly it comes at first. Don’t panic. It’s normal!

Here are tips for supporting your child in the Full Alphabetic Phase.

Be your child’s cheerleader.

Encourage your child’s efforts by helping them notice their successes and the progress they are making. Your patience and supportive feedback can make a significant difference. Make sure your child knows just how proud of them you are and that their progress shows.

Encourage your child to read with you.

This is a great time to begin to sound out select words in books you are reading together. As your child progresses you can even start taking turns reading words or sentences. Show your child that you enjoy listening to them read too, by taking the time to sit down with them as they read.

Ask how to spell words.

Spelling helps children more accurately store word forms in memory. Asking children how they think a word is spelled, and then checking it in the text is another way to help them better learn it for both reading and writing.

Talk about books.

Books are great starting points for conversation. Talk about, make jokes, and review words from the text throughout the week. This will all help your child practice and remember what they have learned. 

  1. Consolidated Alphabetic Phase

In the Consolidated Alphabetic Phase, combinations of letter sounds that recur across different words become consolidated into multi-letter spelling units, such as syllables (li-ber-ty in liberty), prefixes (un in unless), and suffixes (-tion in education). Children can use these units to form connections between spelling of multisyllabic words and their pronunciations – and that helps them read and spell with ease and confidence.

Here are tips for supporting your child in the Consolidated Alphabetic Phase.

How many changes can you make?

Give your child a “base” word, like “do.” Then see how many ways your child can add a prefix or suffix to create a new word. For example: undo, redo, doing, doable.

Find a word within a word.

If your child has a difficult time reading long, unfamiliar words, help them by showing them how to cover up part of the word to break it down into smaller chunks. For example, the word “apartment” (a-part-ment). Cover up the middle and last part of the word “partment” so they can first read “a” then cover up “ment” so they can read “part” then show them the last part of the word “ment.” Now put the parts together “apartment.”

Write a word ladder.

Draw a simple ladder of two long lines and four rungs on a piece of paper. Using a red marker, write a short word like “rain.” Then ask your child to think of more words that rhyme with “rain” and write them on each rung, climbing up the ladder using a different color marker for fun. See how high your ladder will reach! (rain, brain, train, chain) or (loud, proud, shroud, cloud).


Remember, we want children to develop a love of reading, so focus on reading the books they enjoy over and over again. Getting the practice and repetition of reading their favorite story will strengthen their reading skills and help them become confident, lifelong readers.

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!

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