State Sen. Art Haywood, right, presented $50,000 in funding for a children’s reading project during an event at the Philadelphia Hair Co., where he was joined by Gary King and Brad Copeland, both of the Mt. Airy Community Development Corporation. — Photo courtesy of state Sen. Art Haywood

State Sen. Art Haywood late last month presented a ceremonious check from the state for $50,000 to the Mt. Airy Community Development for Corporation to increase reading within his 4th Senatorial District.

“We know that reading by fourth grade is a key to a lifetime opportunity for success,” Haywood said during the event held at the Philadelphia Hair Co. at 5805 Germantown Ave,

“Part of this money will be used to start barbershop and beauty salon book reading activities for youth. They need every opportunity to read,” he added. “Frederick Douglass said that if you can read you will be forever free.”

A 2018 study found that two-thirds of Philadelphia’s third-graders cannot read at grade level, a factor researchers say can determine if students reach 12th grade and graduate.

Mark Lightfoot, owner of the Philadelphia Hair Co., was proud to host the ceremony. His barbershop has been serving the Germantown community for over 25 years, during which celebrities actors Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Wesley Snypes as well as rapper Freeway have been customers.

“I want to help kids any way I can,” said Lightfoot. “I would like to participate in anything that will help my culture, my kids, and anyway I can help my community.

“This funding from the state Department of Education and with Senator Haywood’s assistance will allow us to continue to spread the early literacy gospel throughout the northwest section of Philadelphia and parts of Montgomery County and continue to saturate our communities at the grass-roots level with more books, more early literacy-focused messaging and activities, all geared towards creating “literacy-rich” neighborhoods,” said Gary King, literacy and school coordinator for the Mt. Airy CDC.

The nonprofit plans to use the funds in identifying, recruiting and training various businesses and community groups that will host different book-related reading spaces, known as Book Nooks. The books will not be confined to just barbershops or beauty salons, but may be placed in laundromats, churches, recreation centers and sidewalk libraries.

“The goal is to saturate Philadelphia, and specifically here in the Northwest and parts of Montgomery County, with books and the opportunity for children and caregivers to engage with the world of books,” King said.

An incentive program is still being figured out. But it could involve a reward system that would encourage more active participation and engagement by kids and families through networks of “literacy-rich” spaces, he said.

“Finding complementary place-based community programming to support and buttress this initiative is an important facet of the planning process,” added King, who hopes to have books placed throughout neighborhoods before the next school year.

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