UW Combined Fund Drive

June 30, 2022

Support literacy in your community

The author’s son reading to Rover

Seattle is one of the most literate cities in the nation, and yet tens of thousands of people in our region lack adequate literacy for self-sufficiency.

According to Literacy Source, a leading local non-profit providing basic education to low-income adults, 1 in 6 adults in Washington don’t have the basic educational skills needed to earn a livable wage.

Nationwide, 36 million adults cannot read, write, or do math above a third-grade level, making them functionally illiterate. BIPOC groups, impacted more by barriers to education, are disproportionately represented within this total.

What exactly is literacy and why is it important? UNESCO defines it as “…a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

Of course, it is not only adults who are impacted by illiteracy. Parents who can’t read are much more likely to have children who also struggle with literacy, continuing the cycle. Furthermore, families living below the poverty line, even if they can read, are far less likely to have books in the house.

This definition is important; it shows that illiteracy is not a standalone problem, but one that often forms part of a larger cycle of academic failure, poverty, substance abuse, and welfare dependence. In fact, nearly half of those at the lowest literacy levels are living in poverty.

Kids Need Books

The landmark Becoming a Nation of Readers study concluded that “the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Yet, many parents don’t or can’t read to their children due to lack of time, inability to read well, or lack of resources to buy books.

A neighborhood where the majority of children lack average access to books is known as a “book desert.” In Seattle alone, this applies to 22,000 children.

A little free library in Seattle / Page Ahead

To bring some literary greenery to such parched areas, UWCFD nonprofit Page Ahead has created the Book Oasis Project, installing, maintaining, and refilling Little Free Libraries in affected neighborhoods.

The “take-a-book, leave-a-book” system encourages young readers to try out new books on a regular basis. Little free libraries are the world’s largest book-sharing movement, with more than 150,000 libraries around the world – and probably in your own community, too.

Interested in starting your own little free library box? You can buy pre-built kits from the nonprofit that started the movement and support their Read in Color and Impact Library Programs. Or, you can donate books to a little free library near you with their searchable map (also available as an app!).


Consider supporting one of these UWCFD nonprofits through payroll deduction to encourage and support the pursuit of literacy in our communities:

CAMP READ-A-RAMA (charity code 1482952): Camp Read-a-Rama is a non-profit that uses books for children and young adults as the springboard for all program activities. We provide fully-engaged year-round programming that seeks to improve literacy, particularly for children most in need of literacy intervention. Read-a-Rama programs are research-based and employ data to inform literacy and social emotional best practices.

Deaf Children’s Literacy Project (charity code 0524378): Most deaf children are behind in English language and literacy. Reading opens the door to their future. Give them the power of English to succeed.

KCLS Foundation (charity code 0315694): The KCLS Foundation promotes literacy, learning, and libraries by providing support beyond public funding for initiatives and resources that enable the King County Library System to better serve the needs of our community.

Literacy Source, A Community Learning Center (charity code 1478513): Building literate communities and promoting self-sufficiency by providing learner-centered instruction to adults in English literacy and basic life skills.

Pacific Education Institute (charity code 1481059): Our mission is to advance science literacy and deepen student engagement by empowering educators to teach real-world science, outdoors. Our Vision is scientifically literate citizens making balanced decisions for a thriving future.

Pierce County Library Foundation (charity code 1480040): Pierce County Library Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Pierce County Library System. The Foundation raises funds to support innovative literacy programs, outreach services and expand the library’s collection of books and resources.

Raising A Reader: Raising A Reader is an early literacy organization helping families of children aged 0-8 develop, practice, and sustain home-based literacy routines critical for school success.

Seattle Public Library Foundation (charity code 0329910): The Seattle Public Library Foundation raises funds to provide additional Library resources, programs and services that go above and beyond what public funding provides and enables the Library to be a vital, relevant community resource for everyone.

Contributed by Simon Reeve-Parker. Simon is a Program Operations Specialist in the UW Graduate School.