Heart of America Foundation

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Interview with Angie Halamandaris, President & Co-Founder, information from http://www.heartofamerica.org and 2011 Press Kit (PDF). All Photos reprinted with permission from Heart of America Foundation

About Heart of America

The Heart of America Foundation® (HOA), a national nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., uniquely promotes volunteer service and literacy. The organization inspires acts of service and a love of reading by building community and providing children in need with the tools to read, succeed and make a difference. Committed to education and volunteerism, HOA engages volunteers through putting books into the hands of children who need them the most. Through the Books From The Heart® and READesign® programs, HOA revitalizes school libraries and reading spaces in under-resourced communities into vital and vibrant centers of learning that become the heart of a school. Since 1997, HOA has provided children living in poverty with over 2,300,000 library and take-home books. And, the organization has engaged volunteers in more than one million hours of service to communities nationwide.

How did the Heart of America Foundation got involved with helping libraries?

HOA's progression towards its focus on literacy and aiding underserved libraries came about from its beginnings when the organization first focused on volunteerism. Working with young ambassadors, often kids the ages of 8 and 10 who had started their own non-for profit initiatives, HOA supported these kids by having them go into schools to share their stories.

The result was that these kids were coming back from those schools and sharing with HOA stories of schools without materials, classrooms and libraries without books and students with weak literacy skills and negative images of libraries.

One student when asked what his impression of the school library was responded with "My library is a scary place." HOA saw a need they could fill and soon their efforts were directed one step at a time starting with their first literacy program "Books from the Heart" which raises money for books and reading events.

Over time HOA's efforts grew, they added partnerships with authors, athletics and larger companies and soon their efforts towards helping libraries expanded to Library Makeovers and changing the lives of entire communities.

Statistics - The Heart of America Foundation® has… 

  • Replenished, redecorated and revitalized 106 public elementary school libraries and reading spaces by the end of May 2011, with 47 more projected by the end of 2011, in high need areas across the U.S. through its READesign® Library Makeover program. 
  • Provided children living in poverty with over two million books—a value of over $13 million. 
    READesign® partner schools are targeted and prioritized by need and qualified by interviews and site visits. At these schools, more than 60% of the students are on meal assistance and more than 30% of the students are reading below proficiency as measured by 3rd grade state testing. 
  • As of 2010, 5% of HOA funds were used for administrative/fundraising expenses (percentage computed from IRS Form 990). 
  • By the end of May 2010, HOA completed over 1,300 book donation projects, book drives and book distributions projects, 91 READesign® Library Makeovers, and 15 READesign® Reading Corners.
  • By the end of May 2011, HOA completed 91 READesign® Library Makeovers and 23 READesign® Reading Corner projects in twenty-six states.

HOA Programs 

The READesign® “library makeover” program aims to transform school libraries by redecorating, revitalizing technology, and replenishing book shelves.  The program renews community support and interest in enriching student lives and helping students regain lost opportunities for learning.  READesign engages volunteers, local youth, corporate team members and other members of the community in service and community involvement through library beautification and improvement activities, book distributions and one-on-one reading activities with children. Each READesign “library makeover” includes new technology, vibrant paint, artwork by a nationally recognized artist, new furniture, 1,000-2,000 new, high-quality library books, and up to seven books per child to add to their personal home libraries.  The project provides tangible results in the form of a revitalized library and a school/home environment that is saturated with books, as well as the intangible results of engaging people in caring, compassionate community service to children in need.

Heroes of the Heart® is a recognition program that identifies inspirational individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to enrich the lives of others.  This program also includes two scholarships:  The Christopher Reeve Award is presented each year to an outstanding youth who has demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion in serving his or her community.  The Gee Whiz Kids™ Award is designed to honor exemplary individuals, ages 12 and under, who represent the best of their schools and communities.

How can the public get involved with HOA?

  • Become a Heart of America® Ambassador
  • Donate to HOA
  • Volunteer with The Heart of America Foundation®

Locally you can make a difference as Angie suggests by "finding ways to motivate your local community to support the libraries in your area that may be in need of assistance."

Often the impression is that a public or school library gets all the funding it needs from local and state taxes. This is not always the case.  Educate yourself about the needs of your local libraries and learn how you can be their advocates and get the rest of our community involved.

Completed details on how to get involved with HOA can be found on their web site at http://www.heartofamerica.org/get_involved.asp

Does HOA have any new initiatives for the coming year?

More full Library Re-designs and Reading Corners are in the works, as well as adding Parent Resources and Reading Gardens to the outside library space. Reprinted with permission from Heart of America Foundation

Later this summer, 42 schools across the country will receive a new library as part the 2011 Target School Library Makeover program a partnership with HOA. Each of the 42 library makeovers will feature a complete renovation, which includes light construction, eco-friendly design elements and technology upgrades. New furniture, carpet, shelves and 2,000 books will also be included in the new spaces, and every student and his or her siblings will receive seven new books to add to their own at-home collections.

Besides your website, how else can people stay informed of happenings at HOA?

HOA is on Facebook, Twitter @HeartofAmericaF and photos are available on facebook and shutterfly.  

If a reader has additional questions, how should they best contact HOA?
HOA headquarters are based in Washington, DC.  Our staff can be reached via phone (202) 347.6278 or by email at info@heartofamerica.org.

Lasting remarks:

"Example isn't the best way to teach; it is the only way." - Albert Schweitzer  is a quote that Angie mentioned which HOA often uses in its promotions. She used this quote again in our conversation adding that "community members need to be the example for their community and get involved with supporting their local libraries."

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