K-Ready Kids Comes Full Circle

By Victoria Su, AmeriCorps VISTA

On Tuesday evening, June 9 with storm clouds threatening I headed out for Rochester with anticipation.  This was it.  The last K-Ready event of 2015.  It took months of preparation, planning, and partnering to get to this point and it was finally here.  The final-and most important-step for K-Ready Kids.

The event I was heading toward in that odd heavy light we seem to get here on the seacoast before a storm was Rochester Child Care Center’s K-Ready Kids Family Night.  I had been looking forward to this evening since I had first started working on K-Ready back in January.  At that point all I really knew about the project was from my teenage son’s experience running a school drive for the very first K-Ready event, that I deeply believed in the importance of early literacy, and what I had read about RCCC’s K-Ready event in this great blog post by the previous AmeriCorps VISTA Sarah Tremblay.  So from that starting point back in the snowbanks of January, I knew that this night was my goal for K-Ready.  This was the moment that K-Ready would be complete.

Of course, it took much more than the months passing to get K-Ready Kids from January to June.  And while I knew it would take a lot of work I do not think I fully understood how that work would come from some many partners in the community.  I started out thinking of K-Ready Kids as a United Way project and quickly realized that it is really a community effort-a community of leaders, sponsors, partners, donors, and volunteers who had to come together and by saying yes to this project were saying yes to the future of our community.

By helping to give young children the gift of literacy our community was also coming together to give all of us the gift of a better future.  And judging by the huge outpouring of support K-Ready received I would say our future is looking pretty bright indeed.

When I started K-Ready I was focused on the number.  1,100 backpacks for 1,100 local four and five year-olds entering kindergarten in the fall of 2015.  And as much as I cared about literacy, I was thinking of the numbers-what we needed, what we had. But for all my tallying I don’t think I could have ever understood all it was really going to take-even numerically- to get K-Ready ready.

By the numbers, here is what it took to get K-Ready up and going: 107 hardworking, dedicated, and enthusiastic volunteers.; 9 Sponsors including Liberty Mutual, Heinemann Publishing, D.F. Richard, Exeter Hospital, Hampton Rotary, Internet Essentials, John Hancock, Lonza, and Profile Bank; 12 companies and schools running drives to collect literacy kits including Long Term Care Partners who more than doubled their drive numbers from last year donating over 1,200 kits and nearly $10,000; 5 days at our gracious host’s site: Seacoast Media Group; 8 thoughtful and experienced members of the K-Ready Task Force; 2 UPS trucks and plus many additional drivers delivering backpacks; 45 participating schools, child care centers, Head Starts, and agencies; and not 1,100 but 1,500 young children to receive backpacks or literacy kits.

Of course, those numbers do not tell the whole story.  They do not explain how one of those drives was the wonderful “Lunch for Literacy” at Heinemann where it seemed the whole company turned out in support of K-Ready.  Or the great literacy kit making event put on at John Hancock.  It does not explain the shock I felt when Long Term Care Partners delivered all those literacy kits to Seacoast Media Group and how that windfall allowed us to create 400 additional enhanced literacy kits complete with their own blue United Way bags.

I don’t even know the count of all the boxes of books we received through Liberty Mutual’s book sponsorship and I could not even count how many times I opened one to find myself again delighted to see all fresh, new books inside.  The numbers do not come close to illustrating the support Rose St. Hilaire at Seacoast Media Group gave us during our seven days at the site.  Or the hours and hours Sara Tufo, who initiated the project as a VISTA four years ago, gave to help make this year a success.  There are no numbers that can express the commitment and excitement of all the volunteers coming together to sort all those literacy kits and fill all those backpacks.  The numbers are needed and necessary, but they do not get to the heart and depth of K-Ready Kids.

That can be seen in the commitment of all the individuals, groups, schools, and businesses that came together to create a K-Ready community.  And when we were all together packing backpacks in our sea of black Live United t-shirts it felt like we could even be on the brink of a K-Ready movement.  A moment where we reach that tipping point of support and it is not just select groups who support early childhood literacy and understand the poverty fighting impact that has, but when our community as a whole comes together, United, in the K-Ready cause.

And if we are on the precipice of a K-Ready movement it could be felt most of all at Rochester Child Care Center on Tuesday night.  Parents and children turned out in droves, eager to eat and greet and get K-Ready.   As I showed the assembled group the contents of the backpacks and explained everything from the choice of books to the wonderful school readiness activities in the calendar I felt like I was opening act for a rock concert-the children’s anticipation and excitement was so high.

The star of the show was of course the backpacks that they would each be taking home for their very own.  And it was this moment that I-we-had been working towards for all these months.  The moment when an eager four year old could grasp that red backpack in his hands or sling it onto her back and know without entirely knowing that there was a whole community behind them to support them on their way to kindergarten readiness and beyond.

I left feeling like I had been through a type of commencement ceremony-not for the children who are just starting out on that path but for K-Ready Kids 2015.  Another year of supporting our young citizens with K-Ready backpacks had been achieved.  And it was hard not to read too much significance into the bright and brilliant rainbow I followed home that seemed so full of promise and possibility for all of us.