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Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation grant helps Madison Reading Project increase child literacy

Despite the cancellation of the 2020 American Family Insurance Championship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation continues to have a charitable impact by making direct donations to primarily local non-profits, including those providing COVID-19 relief. This is the fifth in a series on local organizations that are grant recipients.

Books have the power of giving windows into different worlds, providing comfort and room for imagination. Founded in 2013, the Madison Reading Project aims to provide this power to all readers.

Two-thirds of low-income households have no books at home, which is the largest indicator of academic success. The Madison Reading Project’s goal is to increase literacy and provide learning reinforcement to underserved children through access to reading materials.

They host a variety of programs that offer free books to engage children and not only foster their love of reading, but build and reinforce developmental skills.

Since its founding, the Madison Reading Project has contributed 150,000 books to more than 74,000 children in the Dane County area. This year, they hope to donate 60,000 more books with a unique delivery method— a book bus.

Keeping the wheels turning

The Madison Reading Project’s Big Red Reading Book Bus is one of their tools to connect young readers to literacy opportunities. It is a custom, retrofitted bus where children can pick out books at no cost to the family.

Usually, the Book Bus stops at local organizations, libraries and events. They also host frequent book drives and programming for partner schools.

When the pandemic hit, the Madison Reading Project knew their mission had become more important than ever.

“When we heard that schools would be closing down, we tried to get books to schools, teachers and social workers as soon as possible,” said Rowan Childs, founder and executive director of the Madison Reading Project.

Rather than transitioning their operation online, they’ve shifted their focus to deliver books directly to children’s houses and offer curbside pickups in conjunction with social services agencies. Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve provided more than 10,000 books to children with an average of 50 to 80 home deliveries per week.

“There’s a lot of excitement about picking out your own book, especially for those who don’t have the opportunity to have their parents purchase something for them or couldn’t afford things that other students can,” said Childs. “Many children have reduced literacy opportunities because they don’t have books at home, which we’re hoping to combat with our programs.”

Because of the strong demand for book delivery, the Madison Reading Project has an even greater need for books.

With the help of the Steve Stricker Foundation grant, they’ve been able to increase their purchasing power and keep the wheels on the bus going round-and-round. The Madison Reading Project delivers books purchased for their center to families in need within a few days.

“The Madison Reading Project is where we are right now due to the amount of support we’ve received from the greater Dane County area, and grants like the ones from the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation,” said Childs. “It’s wonderful knowing they stand strong behind us.”

Video and learn more

Watch this video to learn more about the Madison Reading Project:

For more about the Madison Reading Project and the great work they are doing in our community, or to volunteer, visit their website.

In its first four years, the American Family Insurance Championship provided proceeds of more than $7.1 million to 280 charitable organizations through the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation. This year's contributions bring the total to more than $10 million.