I co-lead First Book-DC with Angel McNeil–an early childhood curriculum guru and instructional coach! Recently, Angel and I had a chat with Jalisa Whitley, founder of Non-Profit Help, LLC, to discuss a variety of things centered around our experience with First Book-DC. Here’s one of the questions and responses:
Tell me a little bit about your path into First Book, what sparked your passion for literacy?
Darla: I found out about First Book as a corp member with Teach for America in New Orleans. I participated in a professional development workshop on nonprofit board leadership, and the presenter was a woman who ran First Book’s local advisory board in New Orleans. As a teacher, I saw the benefit of the program. I taught third, fourth, and fifth grade English and Social Studies in a “failing school,” and was faced head on with the reality that so many kids cannot read or do not have the basic phonemic awareness and foundational skills to propel them to be critical thinkers and readers in later grades. I had to purchase many supplies out of pocket and I found that I could not afford all of the books and educational supplies that were required in order to ensure that I met the needs of my students.
My personal experience as a teacher really sparked my interest in First Book because the organization supports teachers and nonprofit organizations working to fight illiteracy and put quality resources into classrooms. I initially joined the First Book board as a volunteer board member without a title. I had the opportunity to learn from board members of various ages in a variety of different roles. When I made the decision to move to Washington, D.C.I knew I wanted to be a part of the First Book board here, but found that it had dissolved.
The previous DC board was run by members of Sun Trust Bank’s Mortgage Department. Unfortunately, the previous board fell right along with the mortgage department during the crisis. During my transition from New Orleans to D.C. I stayed in touch with the national First Book organization and they ended up tapping me to lead the effort to establish a new First Book board in DC. As a result of my previous volunteer work and involvement, I was able to transition into a formal leadership role when the opportunity presented itself.
Angel: I have been in education for about six years and it is easy to get wrapped up in work, so I wanted to find a meaningful way outside of work to give back to the community that had provided me with so many great opportunities. I found out about First Book while doing a Volunteer Match search where I found a listing for a position on the Advisory Board. It aligned with my beliefs in terms of literacy and providing resources to children and I had the opportunity to begin as the DC board was in the process of re-launching.
Access to resources was never an issue during my childhood, my parents read to me every day. I loved to read, a fun day for me was going to the library and I was always known as the girl with books in her backpack. So, finding out that many underprivileged schools lacked resources was shocking to me. Access to outside resources is essential for children to learn how to read and write, especially in a time when libraries are closing down, teachers aren’t equipped with the funds to constantly purchase books, and the top priorities of parents may not be going to Barnes and Nobles to buy books. I know how far the books and resources I’ve been given have taken me in my life and I want that for all children.