Page Turner

In March 2020, students lost access to books as their schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That summer, retired Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. teacher/administrator Lana Burton coordinated book donations to children at EVSC sites and those receiving food from the weekly giveaways by Feed Evansville at Hartke Pool. Along with Patricia Weinzapfel, Burton turned these book drives into READ Evansville, which gave away more than 18,000 books in 2020.

READ Evansville expanded in 2021 to include summer programming after partnering with the EVSC Foundation, EVSC schools, YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, Dream Center Evansville, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Koch Family Children’s Museum of Evansville, Boys & Girls Club of Evansville, Young & Established, Boom Squad, Inc., United Way of Southwestern Indiana’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund of the Greater Evansville Region, and more. The organization and its partners were honored in Leadership Everyone’s 2021 Celebration of Leadership awards in the project/program category.

“Our goal was to get those families in need books so that their young people, once the pandemic hit and everything shut down, would have something else to do at home,” says Burton, who had a 40-year career in the EVSC, including as principal at Culver Elementary School and Harper Elementary School. “Research shows that students who read do better. We all know that once we read and know how to read, we’re able to graduate from school, we’re able to get a job and hold onto it, we’re able to become productive citizens.”

The group’s summer programs, which organizers hope to expand next year, engage students in discussions and activities about fire safety, social-emotional health, food and nutrition, and STEM. Middle school- and high school-aged children, most of whom are enrolled in READ’s partner programs also have their own activities centered around a book of the month.

Not only do students expand their reading, but Burton says the programs provide them with additional social and mentoring connections. The Evansville native also says the response to the program has been overwhelming.

“When we were passing out books last summer and we would see families that would come every week to get food, they were just excited to get the books. They would make comments to us about how much their children enjoyed the books,” says Burton. “So that’s the best part — knowing that boys and girls were enjoying the books and also the family members were enjoying the books.”

On the Books

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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