Calgary

Calgary Reads will be dissolved this fall, but its story will live on

Calgary Reads just wrapped its most successful Big Book Sale ever this past weekend — with just under $475,000 raised — but the momentous news comes with a bittersweet announcement: the local non-profit will be dissolved this fall. 

This year’s Big Book Sale raised just under $475,000, selling more than 100,000 books

Calgary Reads will spread its programs out to seven local and national partners, something it's calling its 'dandelion story.' (Calgary Reads)

Calgary Reads just wrapped its most successful Big Book Sale ever this past weekend — with just under $475,000 raised — but the momentous news comes with a bittersweet announcement: the local non-profit will be dissolved this fall.

The early literacy organization started 22 years ago with the goal of helping all children in the city learn to read by Grade 3.

Although organizers are thrilled with this year's fundraising efforts — selling more than 100,000 books — they say it's become harder to come up with the money needed to keep all of their programming going, especially during the pandemic.

"As a province and as a country, we like to invest in problems, not in prevention, and there's more and more competition in our sector for dollars," said Steacy Pinney, CEO of Calgary Reads, in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"So Calgary Reads needed to think of a different way to operate going forward so we could help more kids." 

Attendees leaf through books at the Calgary Reads Big Book Sale at the Calgary Curling Club on May 6. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

The organization operates several community initiatives, school programs and volunteer opportunities to help increase childhood reading in Calgary.

To keep those projects going, Pinney said they will spread them out to seven local and national partners — something it's calling its "dandelion story."

"They're tenacious, they're colourful, and they're the flower of wishes. So we are blowing on a dandelion and making a really big wish," Pinney said.

"The [organizations] are going to take our small seeds and grow them into even bigger programs and supports for young children."

Carrying on the legacy

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Calgary and Area is one of the groups taking on some of the organization's reading and literacy programs.

It will now run the wee read program, which is a free online training platform that helps parents and mentors become better reading role models. It will also run Read Up! — a school-based program in which volunteers read to kids in grades 1 and 2 a couple of times a week.

Steacy Pinney, CEO of Calgary Reads, poses for a photo at the 2022 Calgary Reads Big Book Sale at the Calgary Curling Club. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

"What they've done is gifted to our charity and many others in the community the opportunity to take the legacy that they've built, which is enormous … and run with it and broaden the mandate," said Ken Lima-Coelho, president and CEO of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters.

With the two new programs now onboard, Lima-Coelho said his organization is also planning to build a larger literacy strategy as well as a reading space in its own facility.

"Reading and literacy is a protective factor against other childhood adversities, against poverty, against social isolation. If you can read, the world opens up to you."

Lima-Coelho said divesting each of these programs to different charities will help with future fundraising efforts, too.

"We're now a network, and we've got the opportunity to fundraise individually, but we also have the opportunity to fundraise collectively."

Pinney said the Big Book Sale will continue through the organization's partners, with funds continuing to support children's literacy programs. (Calgary Reads)

Other programs will be run by the Canadian Children's Literacy Foundation, Frontier College, Mount Royal University, YW Calgary, the University of Calgary Owerko Centre and the Rotary Club of Calgary.

Pinney said the Big Book Sale will live on through the organization's partners, so she hopes it continues to receive the same level of support.

"Everything needs to get bigger and better than ever before because the problem, sadly, has just gotten worse with more learning loss and more children not having the books they need to have in their own home," she said.

"We think this is a very joyful and creative strategy to try to do more for our community."

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