And Our Next Reader Is…The Mayor
By Sara Baxter
An innovative new program from Georgia City Solutions encourages mayors get out into the community and read to children, promoting literacy and community engagement.
On a recent Saturday last October, Conyers Mayor Vince Evans sat in a room at the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library with a group of children and read them a story. The book was called “Georgia Caroline Visits City Hall,” and Mayor Evans was helped by his wife, Cyndi, who did many of the female voices. After listening to the story, the children built models of city hall during an art activity coordinated by the library.
This activity is part of the statewide Mayor’s Reading Club, a new literacy program created by Georgia City Solutions (GCS), a nonprofit arm of the Georgia Municipal Association.
“We developed this program as a way to promote literacy,” says Kay Love, Managing Director of Georgia City Solutions. “It is a topic that has become very important to cities, not just from an educational standpoint, but also an economic and workforce development standpoint.”
The program, which officially rolled out last August, began with a handful of mayors and has grown to more than 50 mayors participating from across the state. The response has been very positive.
“Any program where you can get children on the right path early, I’m happy to get involved in,” says Evans. “Through reading they learn imagination, confidence and vocabulary. It’s great to start them early in seeing the importance of reading.”
When they sign up for the program, mayors receive a “starter kit” that contains a copy of “Georgia Caroline Visits City Hall,” a book commissioned by GCS to teach children about local government. The first in a series of five, the book follows the main character, Georgia Caroline, and her classmates on a field trip to city hall in their fictional hometown of Happyville, Georgia. They meet the mayor, attend a city council meeting, tour city hall and learn about city services and operations. The second book in the series is scheduled to be released in March 2023, with subsequent books released throughout the rest of the year.
The starter kit also includes lesson plans for Kindergarten and third grade, a Mayor’s Reading Club proclamation template, an implementation and resource guide and a suggested reading list.
“This is a tremendous program,” says Monticello Mayor Gail Harrell*, who became interested in the program when she heard about it last summer. “The thought of getting out into the community and giving back really appealed to me.”
Harrell has read several times at the local elementary school in Monticello, as well as at the Monticello Get Ahead House, an afterschool program. She also read a “spooky story” to children at the public library around Halloween.
“Reading is your gateway to where you are going in life,” says Harrell, a voracious reader herself. “It’s a step toward succeeding in the future. Anything I can do to encourage children to pick up a book is worth doing.”
When Madison Mayor Fred Perriman heard about the Mayor’s Reading Club, he jumped on board right away, contacting the school superintendent to discuss how they could work together. Since then, he’s been a fixture at the local elementary school, reading to third graders at least once a month. He also encourages other local leaders to do the same.
“It’s a way for all of us to be engaged in our communities,” says Perriman. “I’m so glad GCS has stepped up to the plate with this. Not only does it promote reading, but it’s a great way for cities to connect with the schools. At the end of the day, we are all partners. It makes our communities stronger.”
While some mayors are partnering with the local schools, another natural partner is the public library. GCS has the support of the Georgia Public Library Service, a unit of the University System of Georgia that supports Georgia’s 410 public libraries. Each library received a starter kit, and many have helped facilitate reading events.
“We are thrilled that Georgia City Solutions made this a priority, and the libraries are willing to do anything they can to help,” says Julie Walker, State Librarian for the Georgia Public Library Service. “Libraries are natural gathering places and are happy to host the mayors as they read.” Many libraries—like the Nancy Guinn Library in Conyers mentioned above—have added activities on to the reading event that provide additional learning opportunities.
With encouragement and support from the mayors, the hope is that more children will take an interest in reading, which in turn promotes literacy and life-long success.
“If you are a proficient reader, there is no limit to what you can do,” says Walker. “This is crucially important work. The more people that can get involved in these efforts, the better. It benefits the entire community. Having the mayor involved stresses the importance of reading. The more they are seen prioritizing reading and literacy, the better it is for everyone.”
To learn more about the Mayor’s Reading Club or to sign up, visit the Georgia City Solutions website.
About the Author
Sara Baxter is a freelance writer based in Decatur. She specializes in telling stories for nonprofit organizations.
ENGAGE: Connecting With Georgia’s Children and Youth is a Georgia Municipal Association and Georgia City Solutions initiative that highlights and supports cities and city officials as they engage and connect with children and youth in their communities and address the issues they face.
GaFCP Communications Director