Well, you know the answer…you may just start that young person down the road to literacy and success in life, as well as a lifetime appreciation for the joys of reading.

That’s the essential thought behind a truly ambitious program by the Junior League of Washington. In honor of its Centennial year, JLW volunteers have committed to purchasing and distributing 100,000 new books to students in schools in the greater Washington, D.C. area, focusing on children age 0 through 5th grade who may not otherwise have access to books outside of their school lives.

Called RESOLUTION READ, the program showcases the JLW’s narrowed focus on three key areas of literacy: the importance of reading out loud to children; placing age-appropriate books in the homes of children; and providing more books to schools and libraries.

JLW kicked off book distributions in June 2012 by providing over 6,000 books to D.C. students at 11 elementary schools and organizations.

By design, however, RESOLUTION READ is much more than just giving out books. JLW volunteers also give individual attention, including help in selecting books, reading aloud to kids, and offering a host of other small activities that will foster a passion for books and reading where it otherwise might not exist. At a recent RESOLUTION READ event, pre-teens at John Burroughs Education Campus not only received signed copies of author Mary Amato’s latest book, but had the chance to meet the author and work together to write a song, using her writing process. The energy in the classroom alone showed the power a book can have on a child.

JLW comes to this project with an impressive list of community partners, including The Literacy Lab, First Book, An Open Book Foundation, Reach Out and Read, and Everybody Wins! DC, as well as Reading is Fundamental, the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization. Perhaps not coincidentally, Reading Is Fundamental’s CEO and President, Carol H. Rasco, found her volunteer roots as a member of the Junior League of Little Rock.

But children’s literacy has been a major focus of The Junior League virtually since our founding more than 11 decades ago as an organization dedicated to helping poor immigrant families on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

When the National Literacy Act became law in 1999, Junior Leagues across the nation took the opportunity to renew and reinvigorate a commitment to focus on literacy issues in their communities. Individual Leagues continue that effort with many innovative programs and initiatives at the local level, and the 12 Leagues in Georgia even banded together several years ago to invest 1 million minutes of League volunteers’ time in reading to Georgia’s children.

But activity by the many Leagues devoted to children’s literacy is part of a larger national effort to close the gap in literacy achievement between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers. The need can be clearly seen in recent data from National Center for Education Statistics, which show that only 20 percent of 4-year-olds in poverty can recognize all 26 letters, compared with 37 percent of their peers at or above the poverty level.

Other major national organizations deeply committed to the effort include Reading Is Fundamental, which provides 4.5 children with 16 million new, free books and literacy resources each year; First Book, which has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada; and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which has mailed over 40,000,000 books to children in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

It’s a good fight…for the Junior League of Washington and all of the other Leagues involved in childhood literacy…and it’s a good fight for the many other organizations investing their time, energy and scarce funds to make a difference in this important effort.

Remember, teach a child to read, and you’ll never know what a difference it can make!