Northfield Rotary Club (Minnesota, D 5960) is well known for its support of PolioPlus, an international campaign to eradicate polio. Closer to home, people associate it with youth exchange and bike trails. But thanks to volunteers like Chris Weber, literacy is another area where Rotary is making a difference.
Weber has been chairing Rotary’s Literacy Committee for five years. During his tenure, Rotary has partnered with the local Early Childhood Initiative Coalition (ECIC) and other community organisations to make gently-used books more accessible to families throughout the community.
It has also contributed monetarily to the recent Northfield Public Library expansion and the new bookmobile, coming soon to its neighborhoods. In 2016, Northfield Rotary received a district literacy award for its work here at home as well as its support of international literacy work, such as Books for Africa.
Weber comes by his literacy passion both from personal experience and from his Rotary connections. He and his wife, Deanne, read to their kids from infancy on, and they saw the difference it made in their children’s social and academic development.
Then, at a Rotary International convention, he was seated next to the point person for Rotary’s literacy efforts. After listening to him for an hour, Weber was all in.
Since that time, Rotary has joined with ECIC, Healthy Community Initiative and Early Childhood Family Education to create a system for collecting gently used books and then distributing them at key community locations.
It has also contributed to Northfield Promise’s reading team. Chris invites anyone with used children’s books to drop them off inside the north door to Northfield Community Resource Center.
According to Michelle Lasswell, president of Northfield Rotary Club, literacy is one of Rotary International’s six areas of focus.
“Basic education and literacy are essential for reducing poverty, improving health, encouraging community and economic development, and promoting peace,” Lasswell said. “This is the main reason why Rotary International is dedicated to promoting literacy.”
Lasswell added that Weber’s leadership has been a difference-maker.
“Chris took the initiative to act on his passion, and since it began he has helped make this a sustainable program that puts books into the hands of children who might not otherwise have access to these books,” she said.
“He has expanded it to include Spanish-speaking books. His leadership and commitment have truly helped this program grow, and it has made a difference for children here in Northfield.”
While Weber has been considered a catalyst for Rotary’s successful literacy efforts, he quickly shined the spotlight on the active support from his committee and fellow Rotary volunteers.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the help of other Rotarians, especially those on our committee,” he said.
Weber and the Rotary Literacy Committee would like to make adult literacy their next area of focus. He noted that Rice County’s adult literacy rate is lower than the state average. Closing that gap would enable more adults to fully participate in community life and to better navigate the business of daily living.