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By Beth Nobles
Executive Director, Texas Mountain Trail
I’ll say it: “It is the best thing I’ve done on a bike.”
Last month, it has made U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke feel like a “rock star.” It made kids, teachers, and scores of cyclists from El Paso, Terlingua, and Fort Davis very happy. What was it? Ride for Reading deliveries in Far West Texas.
Ride for Reading’s founder, Matthew Portell, says this:
During my first year of teaching, I asked my students to read for 15 minutes at home each night. One student replied that he didn’t have any books at home to read. It didn’t take me long to realize that student’s problem wasn’t unique. According to the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, the ratio of books per child in low-income neighborhoods is one age-appropriate book for every 300 children. I felt compelled to do something to help my students and others like them — so I combined my passion for cycling and reading. The result: Ride for Reading.
Simply put: Ride for Reading provides a way for donated books to be delivered to low-income elementary schools BY BICYCLE. Local cyclists are recruited for the deliveries, and books are donated locally or provided by Better World Books through the Ride for Reading program.
Our Texas Mountain Trail non-profit got involved with a call from one of our best partners, El Pason Don Baumgardt, who operates a mountain biking website for Far West Texas, www.GeoBetty.com. Don asks, “We’ve got one of the best mountain biking photographers, Devon Balet, coming to El Paso with his crew, Team Ride for Reading. Would you like them to visit the Davis Mountains and Big Bend and help you with your promotion of the area? And, oh yeah, would you like to do this Ride for Reading book delivery?” A few clicks online and it was a no-brainer for us. Soon we had the elementary schools in Fort Davis and Terlingua onboard too.
We recruited volunteer cyclists to meet at a central location not far from the school. There we packed the donated books into backpacks and messenger bags by age level, and then we rode to the local elementary schools, where the kids were excited (and cheering!) to be able to pick out a book (or two) to take home as their very own.
Ride for Reading promotes healthy, safe, vibrant activity and reading. Each child receiving a book must pledge: “I promise to read my book twice. I will never ever throw my book away. I will pass it on to a friend, family member, neighbor, classmate or someone else I know. And I promise to be the best student for the rest of the year.”
Don Baumgardt, organizer of the El Paso delivery in January, “I think the riders got as much out of the day as the kids. We were all so gratified by the response we received at Hart Elementary. When we rounded the corner two blocks from the school on our bikes a roar went up from the students. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”
U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke participated in the El Paso delivery and addressed the kids, "I always wanted to be a rock star, because I wanted to come into a stadium and hear the crowds cranked up...people cheering with pom poms and signs...and today when I rode my bike here, I finally felt like a rock star!" That's right, cyclists...Ride for Reading can make you feel like a rock star!”
Want to organize your own Ride for Reading delivery in your own town? Ride for Reading would LOVE to schedule more events during Ride for Reading Week, May 5-11. They’ve even received a commitment from Better World Books to provide books for every delivery scheduled that week, and they’re excited about expanding the program in Texas.
Founder, Matthew Portell: “I can honestly say one thing, the saying ‘everything is bigger in Texas’ is very true for the Ride for Reading deliveries we had in January! As the founder of Ride for Reading, it is truly amazing to watch such a little concept gain so much momentum. I dream that one day there will be a book delivery via bicycle in all fifty states, but it starts with the motivation of cyclists in every state."
We’re already talking to communities throughout our Texas Mountain Trail region of Far West Texas about adding events that week. As we learned and as our friend, Don Baumgardt reports, “the online resources from Ride for Reading made it very simple to organize the event.”
For information on setting up your own delivery for National Ride for Reading Week, May 5-11, visit the program’s website, www.rideforreading.org.
Ride for Reading deliveries are best if there are lots of community partners. Our partners for our January deliveries to Terlingua and Fort Davis include Friends of Jeff Davis County Library, Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce, Fort Davis ISD, Stone Village Tourist Camp, Davis Mountains State Park, Big Bend Resorts and Adventures, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Desert Sports (a great mountain biking outfitter), Terlingua CSD, Big Bend Chamber of Commerce, Brewster County Tourism Council, and our Texas Mountain Trail board of directors and volunteers, in addition to Team Ride for Reading, Ride for Reading, and Better World Books!