Enriching Our Communities Through Literacy

Read > Lead > Achieve® didn’t stand out to me when I became a reestablishing member of the South Carolina Alpha Chapter. While it grew closer to my heart over the next four years, I’ve truly connected with Pi Beta Phi’s literacy initiatives as an alumna. I’ve led a Champions are Readers® (CAR) program and received an FDS500 grant, thanks to the passion and generosity of Pi Phi and my alumnae club.

I knew I wanted to participate in a year of service after graduation and joined “Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain” with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. I lived on a small stipend, in community with another volunteer, and worked at a small community center in South Philadelphia called Aquinas Center. We shared a campus with St. Thomas Aquinas School, part of the Independent Mission School network in Philadelphia, which aims to provide quality education for students in low-income neighborhoods across the city.

Part of my role at Aquinas Center included hosting, coordinating and leading service-retreat groups. As we entered “Spring Break season,” hosting many groups back-to-back, we wanted a way to connect with the school community. I was learning about the injustices of the neighborhood surrounding Aquinas Center, and how educational injustice was involved. I knew a program like CAR would help us engage with our neighboring school, educate our visiting groups about the importance of education and literacy development, and enrich our community.

I also knew this was the perfect opportunity to connect with a Pi Phi alumnae club. The Philadelphia-Main Line, Pennsylvania, Alumnae Club embraced my efforts to bring CAR to St. Thomas Aquinas, and the school principal and I thought the second and third-grade classes would be perfect for the program. For five weeks, I taught visiting college groups about the importance of childhood literacy, educated them about literacy gaps in Philadelphia and brought them together with students to support a love of reading.

After my time with Franciscan Volunteers, I stayed in Philly to be a part of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at St. Joseph’s University (SJU). ACE Fellows work at under-resourced Catholic schools around Philadelphia, many of which are Title IX schools. SJU's Jesuit identity ensures our degree program focuses on justice and the importance of equity in education. The Philadelphia-Main Line club reached out to see if I would be interested in nominating ACE for an FDS500 grant. We were ecstatic when we were selected, and ultimately 11 ACE teachers distributed books at nine schools. As fellows living on a small stipend, it was difficult to purchase materials for our already under-resourced classrooms, much less afford a collection of books like FDS500 provides. The grant impacted teachers and students alike, and I was so proud to represent Pi Beta Phi to these groups.

The club members and Pi Phi Headquarters staff were so enthusiastic about providing the materials and support we needed to enrich the lives of others. We have built a sisterhood that cares about gifting every child with the tools they need to build strong literacy skills, and that includes opportunities like CAR and FDS500 grants. Applying for the grant was so simple, but what it did for the students my program served was immeasurable. The FDS500 program gives chapters and clubs a chance to enrich their local communities with books — something every Pi Phi loves.

I grew up loving to read, and with Pi Phi I came to understand just how critical that love of literacy was in shaping my successes. I have taught language arts for three years now, first in high school and now in middle school. I keep my classroom stocked with books and work to find high-interest materials to get my students excited about what we read in class. I am grateful to Pi Phi for developing my passion for literacy, and even more thankful for the ways that our sisterhood has supported me and the programs I love.

Bring $1,000 worth of new books to children in your community by nominating an organization to receive an FDS500 grant from Pi Phi. The nomination process is open through September 15. All Read > Lead > Achieve initiatives, including the CAR program and FDS500 grants, are funded through generous gifts to The Literacy Fund at Pi Beta Phi Foundation.


About The Author

Hannah Marks

Hannah Marks is from Louisville, Kentucky, and is an alumna of the South Carolina Alpha Chapter at the University of South Carolina. After finishing her master’s degree at St. Joseph’s University through the ACE program, she moved home to Louisville where she now teaches middle school language arts.