Since its inception 10 years ago, the Literacy Week Program has supported more than 135,000 students in schools across Cobb, Paulding, Cherokee, Bartow, and Fulton counties. Launched by Cobb EMC in 2010 and followed by Gas South in 2015 as a co-sponsor, Literacy Week was created to encourage students’ love of reading and creative writing.
“The program supports the efforts of the schools, and the author and illustrator visits bring real-world examples to the classroom. Literacy Week inspires imagination and promotes lifelong reading habits,” explains Mark Justice, director of education and community relations at Cobb EMC. “Reading is one of the most important components of a successful education, and literacy supports successful STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education.”
Literacy Week was started with New York Times Best Selling Author and Illustrator Brian Lies visiting just three schools. Justice says the response to Lies’ visits was so positive that Cobb EMC decided to make Literacy Week an annual event. Today, the program impacts students in 30 to 46 schools across five metro Atlanta counties. It is offered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and starting this year it also will be offered to college students.
The number of authors who participate changes each year, but they are expecting 12 authors to share their books and illustrations the last week in October during this year’s Literacy Week. “Literacy Week is more than inviting an author into a school to read one of their books,” Justice adds. “Instead, it is a focused time for students to be inspired to love reading and writing. Students learn about the process of writing and editing. A few of our authors are also illustrators. The students get to see live demonstrations and learn tips about how to draw.”
Justice adds that Literacy Week has become one of their most popular school programs and is one of Cobb EMC’s most important community efforts for education. “It is also probably the most demanding week of the school year for us, but we love every minute.”
Impacting the community at large
Gas South’s involvement in Literacy Week goes back to the company’s annual commitment of returning 5 percent of its profits back to the community, specifically to children in need in three areas: basic needs, education, and illness and disability.
“Cobb EMC has a strong education component to their community giving, so we thought co-sponsoring Literacy Week would be a great avenue to collaborate on,” shares Carley Stephens, community affairs program manager at Gas South, adding that this year alone, Gas South will be giving more than $1.2 million back to the community.
A large portion of Gas South employees have personally experienced the good deeds of Literacy Week, as their children are students at one of the participating schools — Norton Park Elementary School in Smyrna. “We know that we are not only impacting our communities, but we are bringing a really great program to the children of our own employees,” Stephens says. “One of the things we strive to do is to put people first, and that doesn’t just pertain to our customers. Taking care of our employees — our own family — is really important and impactful for the company to be able to touch everyone in that way and provide that support.”
A pandemic didn’t slow them down
This year’s program was held virtually to be respectful of social distancing rules and regulations instituted by many of the metro area’s school systems in light of COVID-19. “We normally have a kickoff event for schools on the first Monday of Literacy Week, giving media specialists and principals a chance to meet the authors and illustrators in advance of scheduled presentations,” Justice says. “We will not be able to host a kickoff dinner this year, though, because all of the presentations will be virtual.”
But, Cobb EMC’s mascot, Wattson the Red-Tailed Hawk, will visit close to 30 schools during this year’s Literacy Week. He also will be seen during virtual visits this year.
Stephens added that hosting this year’s event virtually will give presenters an opportunity to speak to smaller groups of students. “Kids will be able to interact in different ways with the authors and illustrators and ask more questions, which I think is really beneficial. …I think this will be a great opportunity for [them] to share their presentations and maybe be more focused on what the skills of a specific class or grade is learning at the time.”
To learn more about the community programs at Cobb EMC and Gas South, visit cobbemc.com/content/partners-education and gassouth.com/giving-back, respectively.
Highlights of Literacy Week:
- Held the last week of October every year since 2010.
- Two Spotlight on Excellence Awards from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
- Business-to-Business Partnership Impact Award – Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta
- New York Times Best Selling Author and Illustrator Brian Lies has participated since year 1.
- Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods participated in Literacy Week in 2015.
- NASA author, speaker and space historian Andrew Chaikin has participated in Literacy Week for several years.