By Dana Richie
Chattahoochee Valley Libraries has a creative approach to combating low literacy rates.
Through their Guys Read program, a six-week book club for fourth-grade boys led by volunteer male role models, the library system is fostering a love of reading in young audiences.
But when financial support for Guys Read was rerouted to other needs during the pandemic, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries turned to a Georgia Humanities SHARP (Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan) grant to keep this cherished program operating.
Guys Read was founded to encourage reluctant readers, especially boys in at-risk populations. By creating spaces led by men who affirm the joy and importance of reading, the library system hopes to close the gender gap in standardized reading tests.
“I don’t know of many organizations who are doing this program this way,” said Tiffany Wilson, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries’ community engagement coordinator. “I think of the mothers who I have met in the past at the wrap-up parties in previous years who have come and said, ‘I’m so glad you took an interest in my child.’”
Most of the awarded funds were used to purchase books for each student, serving boys at approximately 13 elementary schools.
“We like to make sure that we’re providing up-to-date, quality reading materials that are very specific to boys in the fourth grade, so that could mean anything from Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dog Man or books about slime and bugs,” Wilson said. “We curate a very specific collection to gauge interest for this particular target audience.”
Wilson said this program means a lot to the children, with “over 75% of the kids saying that they felt more confident in their reading abilities or more interested in reading” after participating in Guys Read.
“[Guys Read] meets a very specific need in our community, and the fact that we have such caring and devoted volunteers that are trying to make a difference in their lives and mentor these young men give all of us here at the library this well-defined gratification,” Wilson said. “We know, at the end of the day, we are really helping make a difference in the lives of these children.”
Though it takes years to study the program’s long-term impact on the literacy of participants, Wilson noted that there are anecdotal indications that the program is working. A volunteer who started working with the program during its first year shared that his first class of Guys Read participants just graduated.
“Basically, it feels like planting trees, is what my boss always says,” Wilson said. “We’re planting trees, and we’re going to watch them grow over time.”
The local community has been very enthusiastic and receptive to this program. Another volunteer, local journalist Mark Rice, did not want the program to end after six weeks. Using some of the books and resources from previous years of Guys Read and moved by the children’s willingness to learn, Rice led the book club through the end of the school year.
Wilson recalled that “he said six weeks isn’t enough for me. The guys have agreed to continue. We want to keep going.”
In December 2021, Georgia Humanities awarded more than $1.03 million in SHARP funding to 78 organizations across the state to support growth and recovery in response to the pandemic. Funding for the SHARP grant program was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.