Nonprofit helps students who struggle with reading

Dionne Longworth has watched her son Noah making great strides at school and gives much of the credit to volunteer readers with the nonprofit Everybody Wins! Atlanta.

“Every person Noah and I have encountered with Everybody Wins! Atlanta over the past four years has played a role in his growth and development,” Longworth said. “They have amazing hearts for wanting to make a difference in children’s lives, and, for that, I’m truly grateful.”

About 41,000 students in low-income schools across metro Atlanta – including rising fifth grader Noah – have been touched by the nonprofit that aims to increase literacy and lifelong learning one book at a time.

Now celebrating its 25th year, Everybody Wins! Atlanta was the brainchild of Arthur and Phyllis Tannenbaum, who worked to instill a lifelong love of reading in their children by reading aloud to them.

The nonprofit launched in 1997 at Atlanta’s Hope-Hill Elementary School, adhering to Tannenbaum’s simple idea: visit a neighborhood school once a week during lunchtime and read with one child.

“That one-on-one attention is life-changing,” said Tiffany Tolbert, executive director of Everybody Wins. “It’s our obligation as a community to encourage students to read and enhance their self-confidence and overall success.”

Tolbert said the organization has given out more than 100,000 books, including 8,000 that were dispersed to families for their home libraries during the early months of the pandemic in 2020.

About 31,000 students have taken part in the nonprofit’s Story Time, a performing arts literacy program featuring professional storytellers and inspiring reading for pleasure.

And through its premiere program, the Power Lunch, volunteers from more than 40 companies have had weekly one-on-one reading sessions with 10,000 first- through fifth-graders who have been identified as reading below grade level.

The volunteer and student meet for 30 minutes once a week to read and foster a mentoring relationship. Together, they’ve read a combined two million pages through the years, according to data provided by Everybody Wins.

Ann Claeson, a senior training specialist with Atlanta-based supply chain software company Manhattan Associates, has been volunteering for more than 12 years at Brumby Elementary School in Marietta.

“I adore children and have always tried to be a good role model for youth, so it was a fantastic opportunity to get involved and help children,” Claeson said.

She said she’s learned from the experience that a small investment of time can make a difference for these kids beyond helping them improve their reading and retention.

Credit: Special to the AJC from Everybody Wins! Atlanta

Credit: Special to the AJC from Everybody Wins! Atlanta

“The one-on-one time seems to give them confidence, a welcome challenge, and a sense of accomplishment,” Claeson said. “I’m inspired to keep volunteering because I see the impact that can be made by devoting time and focusing on their needs, listening to them, and hearing from their teachers or parents that it has had a positive impact in their lives.”

Tolbert said the nonprofit had a volunteer force of about 800 before the pandemic that dwindled to about 200.

“We’re building it back,” she said, noting that 17 people had signed up by late July to be first-time volunteers when the new school year begins.

Claeson has mentored between 13 and 18 students and makes a strong case to give volunteering with Everybody Wins a try.

“If you love kids, this is really the perfect way to give, teach, and make a difference,” she said.


What to know about Everybody Wins Atlanta

Its mission: Since 1997, Everybody Wins! Atlanta has been improving literacy for children through powerful mentor relationships.

Why it’s needed: According to the Georgia Department of Education, 36% of Georgia fourth graders were not reading at or above grade level in 2019. Everybody Wins Atlanta also cites a recent report showing that 33% of Black and 31% of Hispanic children are reading at grade level in 3rd grade.

More information: everybodywinsatlanta.org