Reading is Fundamental

Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States.

Here in Pensacola, literacy is a major problem in some of the impoverished neighborhoods and since the local chapter’s inception in the mid-1970s, thousands of children have been given books to encourage and promote literacy.

“It started with reading teachers,” said chairwoman Elaine Sites. “Now Reading is Fundamental of Pensacola is sponsored by retired educators.”

Sites, is a retired educator herself since 2001 after serving the community as an elementary teacher for 36 years.

“Now I get to do the fun things,” she said. “Reading to children– that’s the fun part.”

Sites began volunteering for RIF in 2005. This year has been a very trying time for the nonprofit. Since the late 1970s, RIF has been a federally funded nonprofit. This year the organization lost its $12,000 federal grant, which is 75 percent of the local RIF’s budget.

“All we had to raise locally was 25 percent,” Sites said. “Now we have to be frugal. We can’t buy the Harry Potters and Wimpy Kids books.”

RIF will also have to cut its distributions. Before the organization lost its grant, RIF’s 80 volunteers distributed books three times a year to schools in the lower economic areas, with a high percentage of free or reduced lunches. Each distribution, they would provide 2,100 children with a book.

Now they plan on having only two distributions Sites said.

But there has been some light at the end of the tunnel, the local Pilot Club has been a big sponsor over the years and Macy’s Department stores gave a book grant to RIF, some of it landing in Pensacola. Thanks to Macy’s donation, RIF gave 8,000 Pensacola children a book in the 2011-2012 school year.

“We took a box of books to new schools and gave them to kindergarteners as they registered,” Sites said.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, RIF held a book fair at Barnes and Noble. Last Christmas they gift wrapped there making over $1000. Going to such a busy store is also a great way to engage the community.

“So many people didn’t know about us,” Sites said. “And then there were some people that said ‘Oh, I remember getting a book when I was a kid.’”

Sites believes enough in the community to be optimistic about next year’s distributions. Global Learning Academy may be one of the recipients. Until then, RIF is gladly accepting donations and volunteer’s time. For more information about Reading is Fundamental, visit