The Bartow Literacy Council is awarded a grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia


“Bartow Literacy Efforts Bolstered by Grants

by Marie Nesmith

Through a pair of Cartersville-Bartow Community Foundation grants, the Bartow Literacy Council’s Imagination Library program and the South Bartow Bookmobile Project have received needed, impactful funding for their literacy efforts.

For its spring cycle, the foundation awarded 14 area nonprofits a total of $19,250 in grants, among which $1,500 and $2,000 grants were presented to the Bartow Literacy Council and South Bartow Bookmobile Project, respectively.

“I was excited and grateful,” said Valerie Gilreath, chairwoman of the Bartow Literacy Council and the founder/director of the South Bartow Bookmobile Project. “These are both young programs, and these funds will make a big impact on our ability to reach our target population. Plus, it felt good to know that the board of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia saw enough value in what we are trying to do to support it. It was validating.”

With the Rotary Club of Bartow County’s assistance, the Bartow Literacy Council is striving to provide a direct-mail book every month to participating children up to age 5. Established in December 2016, the group’s goal is to enroll 1,000 students in the Imagination Library this year.

Also promoting literacy, the bookmobile project will give residents of all ages in south Bartow access to books, and in the future Internet and computer usage.

“For the Bartow Literacy Council/Imagination Library program, the benefits are twofold,” Gilreath said. “Part of the money will be used to provide books to children enrolled in the program. Another portion of the grant will be used to create printed materials for outreach to the target population and to raise awareness about the program and the literacy issue in general in Bartow County.

“For the South Bartow Bookmobile Project, the funds will go toward vehicle acquisition for the bookmobile itself. Up until now, we’ve had an inventory of books, and we’ve been planning for how the program will operate, but there can’t be a program without the vehicle itself. The grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, in conjunction with another grant from Bartow County United Way, allowed us to seriously shop for a vehicle appropriate for our needs. We’ve actually found one with the help of a dealership in Rome, Georgia — Sherold Salmon Auto Superstore — and they are holding it for us until we can pick it up next week. So, in many ways, this grant was the spark that took the project from planning to implementation.”

In referencing statistics from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report, Gilreath underscores the importance of bolstering literacy among Bartow’s youth.

“Both programs are focused on increasing literacy rates in Bartow County,” Gilreath said. “We hope to do this by raising awareness of how important childhood literacy is and by providing access to books. There is a particular emphasis on ensuring that a child is reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. This has been shown to be a crucial juncture in a student’s academic development. The end of the third grade is when a student stops learning to read and begins reading to learn. The inability to read well at this point will cause a child to struggle to comprehend other subjects, such as history, science and math.

“Children who can’t read by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report, which is published annually, only 34 percent of Bartow County’s children read proficiently by the end of third grade. Both programs also emphasize reaching low-income populations, though they are open to all income levels. Data shows that struggles with literacy are compounded among low-income populations.”

For Gilreath, improving childhood literacy is an effort that is close to her heart.

“I’m passionate about this cause, because I’ve seen all of this firsthand: the positive power of reading and literacy and the negative consequences of illiteracy,” Gilreath said. “Neither of my parents graduated high school, nor did many of their siblings. A parent’s educational attainment is one of the most accurate predictors of a child’s educational attainment, so odds were against my graduating high school. However, my parents understood the importance of reading to me and talking to me. They knew that I would need skills that they didn’t have in order to be successful, and they made sure that I had the opportunity to learn those skills.

“I believe strongly that this contributed to my academic success. The love of reading that they instilled in me improved my vocabulary, my spelling, my grammar, as well as allowing me to read and learn about things that I could not experience firsthand, such as far off places and cultures. This gave me the base I needed to excel, to cope socially and economically in this world.”

She continued, “Some of my cousins were not so fortunate. They did not receive the same early involvement. They were those low-income children who heard 30 million fewer words within the first three years of their life, and they followed the statistically likely trajectory. They dropped out of school; they struggle to maintain employment; they live hand-to-mouth. Now they have adult children whose lives mirror their own. Another generation that has dropped out of school, and who do not have any marketable skills to go out and make a living wage. Those adult children are having children now. I look at their toddlers, and the path before them is all too clear unless we can somehow intervene.”

Along with the two literacy efforts, the other 12 organizations receiving grants from the Cartersville-Bartow Community Foundation are: Allatoona Resources Center Inc., $1,500 grant for emergency food assistance program; Bartow Collaborative, a $2,000 grant for Bartow Give a Kid a Chance; Bartow Education Foundation, $1,000 grant for teacher grant program; Bartow History Museum, $1,000 grant for traveling exhibition, “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America;” Georgia Highlands African-American and Minority Male Excellence, $1,000 grant for a tutor; Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, $1,500 grant for mattresses for its Transitional Housing Program’s bunk beds; Hands of Christ Afterschool Program, $1,000 grant for technology products in fourth and fifth grade classrooms; Hickory Log Vocational School, $2,000 grant for commercial grade cleaning supplies; League for Animal Welfare, $1,000 grant to help cover complimentary sterilization surgeries for female cats and dogs in south Bartow; Boy Scouts, $750 grant for camp scholarships; Project SEARCH Cartersville, $1,000 grant for promotional video; and YMCA Camp High Harbor, a $1,000 grant for scholarships for Bartow’s youth.

“We’re proud to be part of so many great projects in the community,” stated Trey Jordan — chairman of the Cartersville-Bartow Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia — in a news release. “Our grants have helped fund projects to help shelter homeless individuals, provide life-skills training, mentor our youth, preserve history and so much more. These projects add value to our community and contribute to the quality of life of everyone who lives or works here in Bartow County.”

For more information about the foundation, visit or call David Aft at 706-275-9117. Further details about the Bartow Literacy Council’s Imagination Library program and the South Bartow Bookmobile Project can be obtained online at and, respectively, and by contacting Gilreath at or 770-607-1102.”