September 4, 2020

September 2020 Updates from our Executive Director

Dear Read Ahead Community:

I hope you and your loved ones are continuing to do well during these challenging times.  I am writing to share some updates from Read Ahead.  I have had the privilege of speaking with many of you over the past six months and I am grateful for the caring, kindness, and support from this community.  

Read Ahead enters the 2020-21 school year in a strong position thanks to your commitment to the well-being of New York City public school students. As you’ll see below, we have been hard at work creating an entirely new virtual program. We believe this new virtual model embraces everything that makes Read Ahead so special–the trusted relationships between mentors and mentees, and a shared reading experience–while also adding additional literacy curriculum and support that will be essential for students as they work to stay on track during remote and blended learning.

At the same time, Read Ahead cannot ignore the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, and expect that we will continue to feel its effects on our program and operations for the foreseeable future.  To continue to operate sustainably, we have had to make a number of strategic changes to our operations. I want to take this opportunity to share some more context behind our decision-making and our vision moving forward.  

Read Ahead — 30 years of experience now virtual

We are proud to be launching a brand new virtual program for the 2020-21 school year.   There is still a lot that is uncertain about the upcoming school year, and schools are facing significant budget cuts that will impact teachers and other school resources, including literacy support. We’re excited to be able to continue providing essential support for students during this tumultuous time.  

Our virtual program will take place from October – June via Zoom. In addition to the weekly one-on-one support from a caring mentor that is so vital, mentors will also be able to guide mentees through fun, structured literacy games and activities via an online learning platform, BookNook. We had an opportunity to successfully pilot this program at one of our school partners in June, and are confident that we have another successful year of reading and mentoring ahead. 

Although we are thrilled to be in a position to offer our program virtually, we have had to make difficult decisions about our operations and partnerships in order to do so. These decisions include taking a one year strategic pause with some of our school partners, and limiting the size of our mentor pool for the 2020-21 school year. These were painful choices to have to make, but ones we believe are necessary to continue to operate sustainably.

Organizational planning and strategic changes in the wake of COVID-19 

Like all nonprofits and individuals, Read Ahead has been significantly impacted by COVID-19. The crisis has disrupted our program model and created unexpected financial pressure. While we’ve been fortunate to stay organizationally strong throughout the pandemic, as we approach the upcoming school year, we felt it was essential to focus on both the short- and long-term health of Read Ahead. We aim to continue serving as many students as possible with a meaningful, impactful program during the 2020-21 school year, while also ensuring that Read Ahead can maintain a strong financial position and continue to serve our students for many years to come. Because of this, we have made two important operational changes for this school year.  

First, we are taking a one-year strategic pause with some of our school partnerships. We have stayed in touch with our schools throughout the spring and summer, and have had to make difficult choices in light of individual school circumstances, and COVID-19’s impact on our operations. Our hope is that this will be a temporary pause. We are in communication with families and mentors at our paused partner schools, and will be staying in touch with school leadership throughout the year.

Second, we are strategically limiting the size of our mentor pool to ensure that we can continue to operate sustainably.  Our entire team is humbled by the number of people who have expressed interest in mentoring this year, especially as our program has moved into a virtual space. But the ongoing uncertainty around the economy, and timing of when city life will “return to normal”, means that we must proceed cautiously. For Read Ahead, this means limiting the size of our program and operations so that we can make realistic and sustainable budget decisions amidst all of this uncertainty. 

We regret that these changes mean that, for this year, we will be unable to work with many wonderful volunteers who have mentored with us in the past, including those who have volunteered with us in the past through community partnerships and other organizations. 

These are not decisions we made lightly, and we have sought input from our Board of Directors, partners, and other educators and nonprofit professionals throughout the spring and summer. Our hope is that these changes are temporary. And while it is painful to not be able to invite every mentor and mentee to participate this year, we have a responsibility to safeguard Read Ahead for the future.

The year ahead

Alongside the work we have been doing to create our virtual program, our team has also been engaged in learning, reflection, and discussion around how we prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work.  I look forward to sharing more information with you soon about our specific commitments to growth in these areas, and how we aim to be actively anti-racist as we move forward. 

The 2020-21 program year will be a defining one for Read Ahead. Although the challenges ahead of us are great, so is the opportunity to deepen our impact for the children in our program. Thank you for being a part of the Read Ahead community, and for taking the time to read these updates.

I welcome your feedback and questions – please feel free to reach out to me directly.

Warm Regards,

Kristen Baldwin
Executive Director