In December 2017, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc. co-founder, Gayla Gardner, was asked to provide toys to kindergarteners at an at-risk school. She looked forward to all the joy that the toys would bring and yet the experience was more than she could imagine. Upon entering the class, she met beautiful wide-eyed children eagerly awaiting her arrival. The encounter made an indelible impression on her heart, and as she left the school she contemplated: How can we give a gift that keeps on giving and truly made a difference?
It was at this moment that she was overwhelmed with what more could Twelve Days do to secure the futures of these beautiful children and help them reach their full potential?
R.E.A.D. (Read to Empower Achieve and Discover) was launched from this experience as the “Ultimate Gift.” This particular gift -- the gift of reading -- gives for a lifetime. It does not expire, break, or lose its value.
That following November, a fundraiser launched R.E.A.D. and celebrated the organization’s 20th season of serving the Houston community. Steps were taken to form an advisory board of educators, community leaders, and reading aficionados. Once availed of reading statistics in area at-risk schools, the motivation grew to develop a program to elevate an excitement and a desire to read at an early age to assure a solid foundation to excel in all avenues of learning. “A reader today, a leader tomorrow,” a quote by Margaret Fuller is the mantra for the program. The target population is at-risk minority children who lack access to books and educational resources. The program's format includes dramatic storytelling that excites, engages, captures and delivers an unforgettable experience to children with the bonus gift of personal book ownership included at each session.
R.E.A.D. was a phenomenal hit in early 2020 with collaborations with Harris County Precinct One, Harris County Public Libraries, Houston Public Libraries, Houston Food Bank, Scholastic’s Read and Rise through the Houston Area Urban League and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. Through generous sponsorships from HEB and Comcast, children received breakfast and lunch, flashcards, books, backpacks and internet essentials. The program had engaged energized committed readers for the entire year and all things came to a halt with Covid-19.
This pandemic continues to highlight the adversity and reading challenges, especially for at-risk communities. To meet this challenge, R.E.A.D. now provides virtual opportunities via the Twelve Days website and will include in-person R.E.A.D. programming once the environment becomes safe again. With virtual programming, R.E.A.D. can reach more children through the nine Twelve Days’ chapters across the nation with recorded storytelling, author highlights, book reviews, a book club and continued book ownership. Twelve Days’ vision is that “reading becomes as natural as breathing” for every child. Twelve Days is committed to children and believes that reading provides limitless opportunities.