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Raise Me to Read captures seventh Pacesetter Award
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Raise Me to Read captures seventh Pacesetter Award

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Raise Me to Read has been recognized with its seventh Pacesetter Award by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Earning multiple selections is a “major honor,” according to Samantha Emerine, who became director of literacy initiatives at Raise Me to Read in late March.

“It is through the amazing collaboration of our community partners and our innovative staff that Council Bluffs has been named a Pacesetter Community for seven out of the last eight years,” she said. “We continue to innovate and create original tools for both parents and professionals. Raise Me to Read strives to provide our community with the means to move the needle on third-grade reading proficiency.”

This year, Raise Me to Read is being recognized for its Raising Readers trading card game, according to a joint press release from Raise Me to Read and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The project began as a way to promote parent engagement and has evolved into a set of informational trading cards highlighting nine different developmental stages.

AmeriCorps volunteer Brick Demique was the driving force behind the idea, and various staff members at Family Inc. were involved in testing the game and reviewing the benchmarks included, the press release stated. Raise Me to Read hopes to make the cards available to parents soon through its community partners and will keep parents updated through its social media and website.

In May, Raise Me to Read teamed up with the I-Smile program — both part of Family Inc. — to create 1,200 activity kits to be handed out with weekend meal packs at Council Bluffs elementary schools, Emerine said. Each kit included a book, a toothbrush, activity pages with puzzles and pictures to color and information on good oral hygiene, Early Head Start — which FAMILY Inc. is also involved in — and the Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa state insurance program.

“Raise Me to Read’s innovative approach to promoting literacy in our community is driven by stakeholders in education, health care, business, faith and human services and is supported by the Iowa West Foundation and United Way of the Midlands,” said Kimberly Kolakowski, executive director of Family Inc. “This collaborative approach has made all the difference.”

To ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and/or active citizenship, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading focuses on promoting early school success as an important building block of more hopeful futures for children in economically challenged families and communities, the press release stated.

“We applaud the civic leaders and local funders whose time, talent, energy and imagination have fueled progress in these Pacesetter Communities,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of CGLR. “Mobilized communities — like these Pacesetters — support our big bet on the problem-solving potential of proximity.”

Emerine has suggested families complete a Reading Together Summer Reading Challenge suggested by Here Wee Read on the website The website offers several reading lists with an emphasis on inclusion. The challenge was issued on June 19 — Juneteenth. One of the lists includes suggestions to read a book outside, read to a grown-up, visit a free Little Library in your area, read a book by a Black female, read a book by someone of Asian descent, read a book about an indigenous person, read an article from a newspaper or magazine, listen to an audiobook, read a book about someone who doesn’t look like you, read a book about immigration, read a book about adoption and other suggestions.

They could also complete a reading challenge offered by a local library.

Emerine grew up in Council Bluffs and earned an associate’s degree at Iowa Western Community College and a bachelor’s degree in communications at University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has worked in youth services at both the Council Bluffs Public Library and the Omaha Public Library. She was drawn to Raise Me to Read because she is “passionate about literacy and early childhood education,” she said.

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