Reading Is Fundamental
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Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF) is the largest nonprofit literacy organization in the United States. Founded in 1966, it is based in Washington, D. C. RIF’s 400,000 volunteers across all U.S. states and territories provide 4.5 million children with 15 million books and a growing number of literacy resources each year. RIF’s largest priority is providing books for underprivileged children from birth to age 8.
All RIF programs combine three essential elements to foster children's literacy: reading motivation, family and community involvement, and distribution of free books directly to children. RIF is financed in part with financial assistance by the U.S. Department of Education, corporations, foundations, community organizations, and thousands of individual donors.
In 1966, former teacher Margaret McNamara brought a bag of used books to four boys in Washington, D.C., whom she tutored in reading. When she told the children they could each select a book to keep, their astonishment and delight led her to discover that these children, and many of their classmates, had never owned any books. By that summer, McNamara had gathered a group of school volunteers, and on November 3, 1966, they launched the book distribution and reading motivation program they called Reading Is Fundamental. From November 1966 through the early 1970s, RIF expanded from a pilot project at three elementary schools in Washington, D.C., to a program reaching children in 60 of the city's public schools. Its well-known slogan during those times was "Reading is FUNdamental".
In 1975, the U.S. Congress created the Inexpensive Book Distribution Program (IBDP) which provides federal matching funds to sites that qualify for RIF's national book program. Today, through its contract with the United States Department of Education to operate the IBDP, now supplemented with private funds, RIF programs operate in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. RIF is also affiliated with programs in Argentina and the United Kingdom.
In 2004, Kappa Kappa Gamma, a national women's fraternity, selected RIF as its national philanthropy. Together, Kappa and RIF have developed the "Reading Is Key" program, through which the 140 Kappa Chapters collect a combination of book donations and money raised through philanthropic events to donate to RIF.
RIF's flagship service is Books for Ownership (formerly known as the National Book Program), which also supplies children with free paperback books. RIF also offers several special literacy services which, in addition to supplying the services of the Books for Ownership program, target their efforts to specific age groups or populations. RIF serves children at a wide range of venues, including schools, libraries, childcare centers, Head Start programs, parks, community centers, health clinics, migrant camps, and domestic shelters.