USFSM urged to collect books for children’s reading program


SARASOTA, Fla. (April 20, 2015)  – University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students and faculty are being asked to support a new United Way program that aims to boost childhood reading levels.

The Green and Gold Bookshelf Challenge urges students, faculty and the general public to bring new, age-appropriate books to the campus’ Rotunda, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, where they’ll be collected and distributed by United Way volunteers to Manatee County children in distressed areas.

Books will be collected in the Rotunda through the end of May.

“We always do a United Way program and this year we wanted to do something a little different, something that would really engage our campus and reach into our community,” said Dr. Mary Beth Wallace, assistant vice president for Student Success and Engagement at USF Sarasota-Manatee. “When we heard that the United Way was doing a reading program, we thought that would really speak to our mission of education and we latched on it.”

Each donated book will include a sticker inside the cover that says, “Donated by USF Sarasota-Manatee.”

Doreen Ravagnani, volunteer coordinator at the United Way of Manatee County, 1701 N. Tamiami Trail, Bradenton, said the summer-long effort is being paired with a government lunch program that goes to poor neighborhoods, apartment complexes and community centers. More than 13.5 percent of Manatee residents live below the poverty level, including 26.8 percent of children under 17.

“For some kids during the summer, they have no creative, educational stimulation going on,” Ravagnani said.

Funded partly by a $10,000 Volunteer Florida grant, the program aims to boost the children’s interest in reading to help them get a jump on the next school year.

The larger aim is to create life-long readers and boost high school graduation rates, Ravagnani said. Avid readers are more likely to stay in school and to continue their education in college.

About 150 volunteers have signed up to transport and distribute the books, which will be displayed on portable racks.

The program seeks donations of new books, or books in good condition, to show the children that they’re valued, Ravagnani said. Potentially, the program could impact hundreds of Manatee children.

Books collected in the Rotunda will be picked up by volunteers and sorted according to age level. Donors should look for the bookshelf next to C-107, Student Services.

The idea is to collect enough books so the children can take them home to keep. Once finished with a book, they’ll be urged to return to pick out another book to take home.

“We’re trying to reach the most under-served children,” Ravagnani said. “We want kids to love to read. Then that will enhance their ability to read in school.”

To learn more, visit the United Way website,, and click the What We Do tab at the top. Look for the program titled “See Spot Read Spot.”