When Alignment Happens: Bringing Book Trust to Philadelphia & Beyond

In the fall of 2017, Book Trust set audacious goals for the upcoming school year – bringing our program to new communities, delving deeper into how and why our program works, and securing significant financial commitments to support this work in the current year and into the future.

Our goals both inspired and terrified me – how on earth could I help bring Book Trust to the next level?

Book Trust put together criteria of what an ideal new market might look like and along with a few other cities, Philadelphia rose to the top because it had a high concentration of children in need, a high number of people, institutions, and dollars ready to help, and because it had already begun moving the needle on child literacy achievement over the past few years.

It quickly became clear that Philadelphia had the grit, innovative spirit and perseverance, as well as the support of the philanthropic sector to make equity in literacy and education a reality.

Reaching out to new foundations who have never heard of us before almost every day, I know not to expect a response the first time I call. It’s a testament to the listening ear of the William Penn Foundation that when I emailed them, they responded almost immediately.

At the same time, our CEO was encountering a similar response as she spoke with the School District of Philadelphia. The District had recently worked with the William Penn Foundation to build classroom libraries, which they were thrilled about… but they were ready to build on that book access success with something more: home libraries of interest for students. In their eyes, Book Trust brought something crucial to the table beyond book access – the *joy* of reading.

On an introductory call, William Penn Foundation shared that they’d recently invested a significant amount in the school library initiative described above and that they were currently working with nationally renowned literacy expert Dr. Susan Neuman to investigate the state of home libraries in neighborhoods across the city.

Sensing alignment with their current efforts, they connected us with Dr. Neuman to learn more. (As an aside, I’ve been quoting Dr. Neuman in every grant application I submitted since I’d joined Book Trust the year before. It was incredibly inspiring to meet her!)

Dr. Neuman intuited the power of our program almost immediately, and before I knew it, we had an excited school district, a nationally renowned research partner, and a proactive foundation partner willing and able to invest in both the program and its evaluation. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a better coalition of strategic partners – but here they were, ready to work together to bring Book Trust to Philadelphia kids and to further support their students in not only learning to read but loving to read and loving to learn.  A truly exciting prospect.

The grant application process was collaborative and iterative and by the time we learned that we had been awarded $325,000 to bring Book Trust to Philadelphia and to research our program’s impact, we were already a stronger organization for the conversations, questions, and feedback we received from William Penn Foundation, the School District of Philadelphia, and Dr. Neuman and her team.

This fall, the real work begins.

We will be serving 3,000 kids at 10 Philadelphia elementary schools, and Dr. Neuman’s team will be conducting the most rigorous evaluation we’ve ever participated in. I am more confident than ever in the power of our program and in our ability to move the needle for kids in need and I can’t wait to share the results of the evaluation this spring.

Looking forward, this collaboration gives me real inspiration for the future. Rapid expansion that might have seemed just out of reach now feels just around the corner. Based on what we’ve learned about ourselves and the collaborative partnerships we’ve created in Philadelphia already, I know we will have a great model to bring to new communities that are passionate about reading – Atlanta, Chicago, and New Orleans… expect a phone call!

 

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