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Philadelphia Kicks Off Let's Read. Let's Move.

by Catie C. Wolfgang

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter believes in the power of service to address real community needs. “As summer school and many other summer opportunities draw to a close at the end of July, it is more important than ever to leverage volunteers in ways that meet the academic, social and physical needs of our young people straight through to the first day of school,” said Mayor Nutter in the days leading up to the launch of Philadelphia’s first ever summer service challenge.

On July 27th, the City of Brotherly Love proudly gathered in beautiful Fairmount Park to kick off Let's Read. Let's Move. Philadelphia. A diverse community of volunteer driven organizations from across the City came together to engage children of all ages, and their adult mentors, in a wide range of interactive activities designed to ensure everyone spent the night reading, exercising and eating healthy snacks.

The opening program was hosted by Lisa J. Nutter, President of Philadelphia Academies, Inc. and included a cameo appearance from CNCS Chief Strategy Officer, Heather Peeler, who traveled from Washington, D.C. to thank Philadelphians for stepping up to the Corporation’s Summer of Service Challenge.

The event included an exciting announcement from First Book, a non-profit organization that provides new books to children in an effort to increase literacy by reducing one of the biggest barriers – access to books. In celebration of their donation of 170,000 books to Philadelphia this summer, First Book brought along 400 books to the launch. First Book Philly Board Member Julie Jung challenged young adults in the audience to take home a book or two and read with a younger sibling or neighbor.

Among the most inspirational speakers on the program were a group of eight youth representing Teens4Good, Students Run Philly Style, Education Works and YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. Together, they spelled out the real value of reading, exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Latara, a YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter High School Student and AmeriCorps member, directed her message to the youngest children in the audience. “One year ago, I was a high school drop-out. Reading was something I was forced to do in school, but never chose to do on my own. Over the last year at YouthBuild, I’ve learned to enjoy reading, and I know I’m good at it. I read every day, in and out of school, and I love it. I’m now taking a class at Community College of Philadelphia, and plan to become a full-time student in the fall. I have this great opportunity because I can read, and I believe all young people should learn to read so that they have the chance to go to college. To help the kids here today become strong readers, we are helping to build bookshelves and hosting a read-aloud. My classmates and I hope you will join us in encouraging reading today, and every day with the young people in your life.”

Cole, a member of the West Catholic High School Students Run Philly Style team, spoke passionately about the lessons he’s learned through physical activity. “I can think of no better way to wake myself up in the morning than to go for a run. It gives me the feeling that I’ve accomplished something and also that I can conquer anything else in the day. What I have learned from running with my Students Run team will help me after I graduate from high school, as a college student and in the workplace. Students Run has taught me a work ethic in which I make plans to solve problems, work through the steps of the plan, and follow through, the same as training for a marathon.” -

Nona, a fellow Students Run Philly Style participant from Central High School focused on the role of mentors in helping her stay healthy, fit and motivated. “Participating in Students Run Philly Style has helped me in so many ways. It has sparked in me a love for sports, boosted my self esteem, allowed me to get in shape and lead a healthier lifestyle. I have significantly changed my eating habits and those of my family members, my parents in particular. The best thing about being part of Students Run Philly Style is the atmosphere and the great people involved. No matter what your pace is, you know there will always be someone cheering for you and telling you that you can do it. There are always people spreading words of encouragement, and it seems they come at the right time when you need it most. The mentors involved in this wonderful program do everything they can to make you feel welcome and comfortable and let you know that you are special and make a difference. Whatever happens there is always someone two steps behind you ready to catch you if you fall.”

Once the formal program ended, guests dispersed across the park. They grabbed paint brushes, hopped on rowing machines, picked up hammers, cracked open books, dug out worms, jumped over hurdles, sampled healthy treats and – all in all – had a great night!

Many thanks go out to all of our volunteers and the fantastic organizations that made the launch of Let’s Read. Let’s Move. Philadelphia a huge success: All Fitness, ARAMARK, Breaking Barriers, Dhyana Yoga, EducationWorks, First Book, Fresh Grocer, Greater Philadelphia CARES, Junior League of Philadelphia, Mural Arts Program, PARENT POWER!, Riverbend Environmental Education Center, Students Run Philly Style, Teens4Good and the Federation of Neighborhood Settlements, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation!

Learn more about Cities of Service: http://www.citiesofservice.org/

Learn more about Let's Read. Let's Move. Philadelphia: http://www.phila.gov/service/LetsReadLetsMove/

Catie Wolfgang is Philadelphia's Chief Service Officer.

And here are some great photos we shared with you last week - thought we would share them again:

Photos courtesy of Mitchell Leff

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