In the days that followed the tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011 help came pouring into the West Alabama community from near and far, filling immediate needs like food, shelter and clothing for those displaced by the storm.
It was in the days that followed the tornado that Dana Duckworth and Donna Benjamin started thinking about the long-term efforts that would be needed to help the community get back on its feet. Says Duckworth:
“One of the things we discovered was that in addition to all the other damage and destruction there were three elementary schools and one middle school that had either lost their entire library in the storm or had most of their library book inventory destroyed,”
That was a light bulb moment for Duckworth and Benjamin, and at that moment ReadBAMARead was born.
“I’ve always believed that reading is fundamental to all learning, and I knew immediately that this was something that could make a real difference in our community,” Duckworth said.
Armed with their legendary energy and enthusiasm, Duckworth and Benjamin along with a core group that would become the foundation of ReadBAMARead, put together a foundation that would help raise money to stock the libraries of the schools once they are rebuilt.
The foundation took off immediately within the community. That good start got better when David DeSantis and Tuscaloosa Toyota pledged $200 for every 9.8 or better that Alabama scores during the Crimson Tide’s first three meets in 2012.
The Tide tallied 62 scores of 9.8 or better over its first three meets, which meant that Tuscaloosa Toyota donated $12,400 to ReadBAMARead prior to Alabama’s “Tornado Relief Meet” against Missouri on March 9, 2012. With Alabama Governor Robert Bentley on hand, David and Terri DeSantis presented Duckworth, Benjamin and ReadBAMARead with a check for $12,400 which Toyota Motor Sales USA augmented with a check for $10,000, for a total of $22,400.
“That was such an amazing night,” Duckworth said. “David DeSantis and everyone at Tuscaloosa Toyota are so incredible and their support of ReadBAMARead throughout the season had already made such a huge difference, so when they presented the second check, I was just speechless.”
With donations like the one made by Tuscaloosa Toyota, along with partnerships with The Color Run and the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon, ReadBAMARead met its initial goal of raising enough money for 10,000 bound, library-quality books – at a cost of approximately $15 each – for the rebuilt schools in June 2014. Meeting its goal in just three years was a huge milestone for the foundation, but it was just the start.
“We were so excited to cross that original threshold and help the schools that had their libraries destroyed get back on their feet,” Duckworth said. “Now we’ve turned our attention to the next phase.”
That next phase is to expand the foundation’s mission to include a larger, more expansive constituency.
“To me, readers are leaders and so ReadBAMARead is expanding and bolstering its support at the elementary school level,” Duckworth said. “By doing that, we’re hoping to foster a love of reading in the next generation so that they build a foundation that will carry them through the rest of their lives.”
With its initial goal met in 2015, ReadBAMARead turned its attention to childhood literacy with the state as a whole and is now partnered with The University of Alabama College of Education, through the Belser-Parton Literacy Center, and the UA Department of Athletics to power The ReadBAMARead Express, which brings books to the youngest students in Alabama’s school systems, helping ignite an interest in reading that will hopefully last a lifetime. The ReadBAMARead Express partnership is primed to provide books and reading motivation to thousands of children each year, helping provide a stronger base for tomorrow’s Alabama.
“One of the really neat things about ReadBAMARead, is that people from all walks of life have gotten involved, either with the foundation itself or in supporting it through things like the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon and The Color Run,” Duckworth said. “I think everyone recognizes the importance of education and that reading is the key to a great education.”
Overall, ReadBAMARead is looking to expand and grow literacy at the earliest ages throughout the state of Alabama.
The mission of ReadBAMARead falls in line with the ideal of Alabama gymnastics.
“As student-athletes, our ladies strive every day to be the best that you can be,” Duckworth said. “And through ReadBAMARead, we are helping children in this area strive for that same ideal and I couldn’t be prouder of that fact.”