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Raising Readers in Story County Strives for Fairy Tale Ending: A City of Readers

It all started when local mother Carolyn Jons dared to ask the question, "What would Ames, Iowa look like if it was a city of readers?" She challenged members of her community to answer that question. And they did.

In response, community partners imagined a county transformed by books. Books in unlikely places: in parks and waiting rooms, in the hands of parents with children on their laps. And classrooms full of children entering grade school on reading level.

Parents Andy and Lindsey Long thought of the countless memories, traditions, and good habits that they had developed with their own sons through the gift of reading. They wanted that experience for the rest of the children in Story County.

Local mother, Annie Almquist envisioned a world where her sensory challenged daughter was set free by an imagination unleashed by the world of books. And as a result her daughter entered kindergarten ready, poised for a lifetime of literacy successes. Almquist wished this liberation for every other child in her community. 

Thanks to Carolyn Jons, founder of Raising Readers in Story County, in Ames, Iowa, these story book visions became reality. Raising Readers’ mission is “to improve language and literacy development in children from birth to age 8 and to nurture healthy parent-child relationships.” United Way of Story County partnered locally with Raising Readers to help scale the program in order to help serve over 240,000 people since its founding in 2000.

Raising Readers is one of many partners that make up Ames Reads, the local Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR). Ames Reads, led by United Way of Story County, has been named a Pacesetter by the CGLR for 3 years, a distinction that recognizes achievement in areas of school readiness, summer learning, and overall grade level reading. For school readiness, the percentage of children in Ames, Iowa ready for kindergarten rose to 87% from 66%.

United Way believes that anyone can make a difference in another’s life. It is those among us, like Carolyn Jons, that have the passion to serve others, the vision of a better world and the drive to make their vision a reality that become heroes within our communities. "It's so satisfying to know that you're making a difference," Jons said. "My passion, my calling in life is to maximize the potential of myself and others. Raising our family was a wonderful time in life. What we wanted for our kids, we want for all kids. It really drives me."

“It was an honor to nominate Carolyn Jons for The Hero Effect. She has been an inspiration to so many people in our community and a great team member on Ames Reads,” said Jean Kresse, President and CEO of United Way of Story County.

Raising Readers in Story County will be featured on "The Hero Effect," a docu-series presented by United Way that airs on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on March 11 at 9:00 am CST. For more information on how you can get involved with Raising Readers in Story County, United Way of Story County, or support literacy in your community, visit HeroEffect.com

The Hero Effect is an uplifting docu-series that brings to life the stories of ordinary individuals who are making extraordinary differences in their communities. Shot on location in ten different communities across the country, each episode brings audiences real-life stories that show the impact one person can make.

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