Literacy Leaders

Literacy Leaders Rockford

Beginning in 2020, the Junior League of Rockford’s Community Impact Initiative is “Literacy Leaders” 

The Junior League of Rockford is committed to addressing the complex issues of literacy throughout our community. Our project will focus on building types of literacy that help Rockford women – of all ages – get ahead, such as workplace, technology, financial, nutritional, health, and digital literacy as well as addressing the ongoing problem of early childhood literacy.

Our Objectives with Literacy Leaders:
1. Literacy for women through programs like the Junior League’s Women’s Conference.
2. Adolescent literacy; including poetry slam, book drives, children’s own published books.
3. Adult and Cultural Literacy – With no one solution in addressing literacy, programming
under this project could include TED-style talks, virtual webinars, and book donations.

Evidence of Community Need and Description:
According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 10 percent of women over the age of  25 years in Winnebago County do not have a high school diploma. The gender gap facing women includes an apparent gender-based literacy gap. The Council on Foreign Relations maintains that as efforts are made to improve girls’ education globally, the outcomes can positively affect economic growth, political participation, health and sustainable families.

Recent studies bear out the crucial need for early literacy skills and reading readiness for young children. There is overwhelming consensus that the earliest years of life is the time when a child’s brain is undergoing the most growth and development and that the experiences a child encounters during this critical phase shapes his or her academic, health, and overall lifelong success. The only way to improve third grade reading scores is to focus on the literacy and language skills of children from birth to age 5.

In Rockford we know there is a critical need for literacy and language intervention in our youngest population. According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2018 Illinois Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, 40% of children in Rockford were not ready in math, language/literacy, and social emotional development when they enter Kindergarten (Report: More Preschool Now, Less Crime Later Rockford Register Star, 4/24/2019) and in the Rockford Public School District 205, only 17% of 3rd graders met or exceeded expected grade-level reading performance in 2017. To reverse this alarming trend, resources and attention must be devoted to the education and support of parents and caregivers of young children, who are their “primary teachers” before they enter Pre-K or kindergarten. High-quality early education programs that engage these caregivers and their children provide the opportunity to get children on the right track by building a strong foundation for pre-reading and school readiness skills.


Bookworm Vending Machines
We are partnering with Crusader Clinic to place Bookworm Vending Machines in pediatric clinics located in underserved areas in the Rockford community. These vending machines will be filled with new books of varying skill levels. When a child visits the clinic for a scheduled well-baby/child exam, they will be given a special token to use in the vending machine to choose a new book. The idea of being able to pick out their very own book will make them excited to read it. Our goal is to fill the vending machines with books that will represent the demographics of the children that they are serving. We are currently sourcing a wide variety of diverse books so these babies and children can see themselves in the books they are choosing.

These book vending machines are manufactured in the USA and are specifically engineered to ensure every token receives a book without any hang-ups. Each machine can be customized with
varying tray sizes to handle a diverse selection of books. Each vending machine can hold up to 300 books depending on the size and shape of the books. The vending machines also have beautiful
vibrant vinyl wraps on the outside that can be customized to our partners’ specifications.

We placed our first vending machine at Crusader Clinic May 31, 2023. They have already given away 900 books. The program has been such a success that they would like to place vending machines in all of their clinics.

The United Way’s United for Literacy Initiative
The Junior League of Rockford is one of the organizations that is a part of the United Way of Rock River Valley has partnered with nearly 30 local organizations, including 13 who have already received funds, to launch ‘United for Literacy,’ an initiative that is using research-based strategies to tackle Winnebago County’s low literacy rate, which currently sits at just 32% or 1 in 3 children. The bold goal of ‘United for Literacy’ is to increase the literacy rate in Winnebago County from 32% to 75% by 2034.

The initiative will impact thousands of children and their families in Winnebago County with collaborative and connected programs and resources that include books and literacy kits for newborn
families at SwedishAmerican and Mercyhealth, the recruitment and retention of tutors at Boys & Girls Club of Rockford, the addition of book vending machines at Crusader Clinic, various reading and school readiness programs at local churches, Discovery Center, Patriots Gateway Center, Rockford Park District, the Rockford and Cherry Valley public libraries, and much more.