Mark’s Say: Readings Foundation

Around 2008, when it became apparent that thanks to the community’s support, Readings would survive the onslaught of Borders, we decided we needed to acknowledge that support and the efforts of our staff in a tangible and ongoing way. We resolved to give a total of 20% of our profits to the community and staff each year. A year later in 2009, we established the Readings Foundation to support literacy and the arts in the Victorian community.

Since that time, we’ve made grants of more than $1.5 million and accumulated a fund of over $800,000 to ensure the longevity and continued growth of the Foundation. In addition to the percentage of Readings profits, we’ve asked our customers to make donations to the Foundation through our gift-wrapping service. Some of our staff, too, make their own contributions and we have a couple of Readings friends who make significant donations each year, for which I’m so grateful. Just after we started the Foundation, a friend, Peter Donoghue, came to see me. Peter had just retired as the CEO of a large publisher and wanted to give back to the community. The focus of the Readings Foundation resonated with him, and he wanted to make the Readings Foundation his charity and donate each year; so far, he hasn’t missed a beat.

Sadly, due to COVID-19 lockdowns, we didn’t have the funds or other resources to award any grants in 2021, but we resolved to start again in early 2022. We were able to make grants totalling $200,057 to 11 organisations, and last week our Foundation manager, Gabrielle Williams, and I had the great pleasure of meeting with some of the recipients and hearing about their work. A number of them are organisations that we have worked with before. It was inspirational to reconnect with them and to meet new people and find out what they do. These people working in the not-for-profit sector are so smart and so dedicated to helping others that I couldn’t help but feel enormously privileged to be able to support their work. They work under the radar, helping people who we have pushed out of mind. They came with many stories, some good, some bad; of Covid forcing them to halt or reduce their programs, of losing support, but also of optimism, of starting again, more ambitious than ever.

Banksia Gardens is a community centre based in Broadmeadows that works in the northern suburbs of Melbourne; they told us about the school they had started, providing a program for primary-school-aged children who, for various reasons, had stopped going to school. They provide these children with intense support that will enable them eventually to participate in a conventional learning program. The program developed by Banksia Gardens is innovative, world-class work. Each year Banksia Gardens and its programs touch 80,000 lives. Our Foundation supports their Aiming High Program, which supports talented children in their VCE studies. It gave me a great thrill to see that an alumnus of the program, Ahmed Yussuf, is now a journalist with the ABC.

Most of our grants go to organisations supporting young people. Each year Western Chances provides scholarships and support to over 800 disadvantaged secondary and tertiary students from the western suburbs. It supports kids right through secondary and tertiary studies and helps change their lives.

Many of the organisations we support get some government funding for accredited programs, but our grants sometimes let them do something extra, to take chances, to be creative. Banyule Community Health is a public health service in West Heidelberg, and it’s never been busier, providing vaccinations and other Covid support to its community. However, its ancillary programs have struggled, and our grant will help them develop a program for Somalian pre-schoolers and their mothers to help them prepare for primary school. I can’t wait to see the results.

Many of us at Readings have a soft spot for the outreach programs of Carlton’s Church of All Nations and many of you will know the Church in Palmerston St; before Covid we often used the beautiful Church for events (and will be doing so again soon). The pandemic has been particularly tough for their educational programs; their food support program was overwhelmed, and they had to furlough most of their educational programs. The Readings Foundation for many years supported their after-school program and we’re thrilled that it’s starting up again, and that we can resume this incredibly rewarding partnership.

The Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships are open to anyone with a writing project and the Readings Foundation has supported it since inception; in my view it’s a very exciting way to discover and support emerging writers. I was very excited to see that Allee Richards had been a recipient of one of the fellowships. Her book, Small Joys of Real Life, was one of my favourite books of 2021.

The Readings Foundation 2022 grant recipients

  • 100 Story Building $17,350 to provide after-school story-making programs for children and young people experiencing disadvantage. Workshops will be held in the Footscray headquarters, reactivating the creative literacy centre which provides an inclusive and safe environment for 6–18 year olds to connect with their peers through creativity.
  • Banksia Gardens $20,000 for its Aiming High VCE support program for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the Broadmeadows and Craigieburn regions. The program fills a gap that exists in the Hume area for young people wanting to excel in their studies and attend university.
  • Banyule Community Health $20,000 to prepare children to read by the time they start school, working with Somali mothers who attend a supported Himilo playgroup. The project will employ female Somali community members to collect and document traditional Somali stories, folktales, games and songs. The outcome will be a bilingual early literacy resource for children and an archive of Somali traditions, language and culture.
  • CAN Community Services $20,000 to provide homework and education support to approximately 70 school students and families from the Carlton Housing Estate and surrounding areas. Working alongside local primary and high schools, and utilising skilled tutors, the program will ensure students have the resources and support to develop literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Carringbush Adult Education $18,039 for its Sing, Say, Share, Play family literacy program for parents and caregivers and their children (0–4 years). The program will also include supervised playtime for children allowing parents and caregivers time to connect, share and learn together.
  • Footpath Library $20,000 to provide people experiencing homelessness access to free quality books and reading glasses through its mobile library services.
  • Paint the Town REaD $19,670 to give early childhood service providers and playgroup coordinators the skills and preloved books to encourage parents to read with their children at bedtime. The library will be augmented by a gift of a new book for every four-year-old child.
  • The Smith Family $19,998 for its Let’s Read literacy intervention program to assist disadvantaged children in Dandenong. The program aims to improve language and literacy capabilities of children from birth to age five in socioeconomically disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.
  • Western Chances $20,000 to provide new and renewal scholarships to young people experiencing financial and other barriers to education across the western suburbs.
  • The Wheeler Centre $20,000 for the Hot Desk Fellowships for emerging writers. In total, 21 writers will be offered fellowships throughout the year, including a Playwright Hot Desk Fellowship, generously supported by the Just Pretending theatre group.
  • Melbourne Writers Festival $5000 to support the appointment of a First Nations program director.

Find out more about the Readings Foundation here.

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Small Joys of Real Life

Small Joys of Real Life

Allee Richards

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