BANGOR, Maine — According to Educate Maine's 2019 Education Indicators report, only about 36% of our 4th grade students are at or above proficiency in reading. While there are likely varying factors behind that number, it’s a percentage rate that continues through the 8th grade.
Two Maine parents are doing their part to change that; through a lofty goal of getting books into the hands of every Maine student, starting in the 1st grade.
"In communities throughout the state, there are families who can’t provide books for their own home or it’s maybe just not their first priority. We saw this through statistics through lunch programs in schools and just in general in terms of what home libraries look like," Karen and Dan Cashman are the founders of Dirigo Reads.
The non-profit is only in its second year, but is already supplying first graders with a book a month in 26 different schools within ten counties. "Our goal is still to reach every school in Maine by the year 2025," the couple explains, fully admitting that it's a lofty goal.
"Books are not free, and the ability to put books in the hands of kids is not free," says Dan. "When we started this we didn’t want to do just one book, we wanted to start a library for kids who didn’t have one of those in their house. And for kids that did, we wanted to be able to update it."
There is no staff involved in Dirigo Reads, and no warehouse holding stacks of books; so there is no overhead to this non-profit. The Cashmans volunteer their own time to make this happen; calling on corporate support from places like United Way of Eastern Maine; Machias Savings Bank; Cross Insurance; Bangor Savings Bank; Northern Light Health; Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications; and The First.
Both Dan and Karen Cashman have full time jobs; and the couple has two daughters, making the art of sitting down and reading a book with a child so much more meaningful to them.
"When a child brings a Dirigo Reads book home, I hope there’s that spark," says Dan. "I hope there’s that excitement when they first open that, but look at the words look at the pictures that are inside. We have some wonderful artists in the books that we provide. And I hope that engages them toward a lifelong path of a love of reading."
"When we visited this one school last year pre-Covid, there was this boy who walked up to me with tears in his eyes and he just said, 'Thank you.' So right there, that’s enough for me. That’s enough for us," Karen adds.
To learn more about Dirigo Reads and how to get involved, click here.