Event Provides Summer Reading for Local Youth

Books, bikes, and even a fire truck participated in the Sixth annual Light a Candle for Literacy parade on Saturday, June 4. Even spotty rain showers couldn’t keep the energy down, as students and community members chanted catchphrases like “Read a Book! Read a Book!”

Students of all ages participated in Light a Candle For Literacy's parade and festival Saturday, June 4, 2011, at Danforth Middle School. -- Photo by Durrie Bouscaren

At noon, the procession traveled through the neighborhood and arrived at a literacy festival in Danforth Middle School. There, students visited tables and participated in activities run by nonprofits in the community.

Jasmine Dowdell and Amani Johanso, both 14, came back for the second year in a row to march in the parade.

“Reading’s important, it helps you grow up,” Dowdell said. Both girls say they hope to attend college some day.

It was a South Side resident of 40 years that made Saturday’s event a reality. Geneva Hayden, executive director of Light a Candle for Literacy, says she’s confident that literacy can change the world.

“It makes us grow; lets us understand our culture, and it makes us stronger,” Hayden said. “We’re making literacy our number one priority.”

In the Danforth cafeteria, students hovered over cans full of melted wax, creating colorful dipped candles under the supervision of Baltimore Woods Nature Center volunteers.

“After all, it is ‘Light a Candle for Literacy,’” joked volunteer Patty Weisse.

Festival-goer Shylon Williams, 9, bounced around the Danforth library wearing a three-foot tall balloon hat. He says his friend who attends the middle school told him to come and read for the day.

Organizer Geneva Haden directs participants before the Light a Candle for Literacy parade begins. -- Photo by Durrie Bouscaren

“I’ve got a lot of books at home. When I’m by myself, I’ll read for a couple hours,” Williams said.

His favorite book? “Curious George.”

Light a Candle for Literacy is involved in a number of after-school education programs at Beauchamp Library. The group has been expanding the definition of literacy to include health, nutrition and physical education.

Geneva Hayden says teaching local children to read and write is crucial.

“I see the need in our youngest children,” Hayden said. “We need to promote to parents that literacy begins at home. Parents need to be reaching out, making sure their child can have the best opportunities offered in their community.”

Hayden says that she sees her students greatly improve after just one year of hard work.

“I’ve seen kids from the poorest of the poor who move to excel in life,” she said. “This is why I continue to do what I do.”