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Cultivating a Culture of Reading in My Neighborhood

My journey to becoming a Reading Captain is pretty simple. I was scrolling through Instagram during my evening commute when I saw a post on the Free Library’s page about becoming a Reading Captain for the Read by 4th campaign, which read:

“Step up and be a Reading Captain for families on your block. Connect people you know to important information so their children can become great readers…”

I filled out the online form and chose a training date: a Saturday in May in Mt. Airy! Although I live in South Philly, I had a feeling that connecting with a network of other people who care about reading would be well worth going to in another neighborhood.

Turns out, I was right! Not only did I meet other literacy and book fanatics at my training, but I also ran into an old friend who was also training to be a Reading Captain. We were able to share our experiences and passion for reading.

Many of the other attendees were retired educators or community advocates. I later connected with the South Philly Reading Captain group.

What is a Reading Captain?

A Reading Captain is someone who loves reading, cares about literacy and children in our city. They embody a culture of reading wherever they go, in whatever they do.

My first thought after registering for the training was,

“I should have conversations about reading with families in my neighborhood? I already do that!”

What I love most about the opportunity is how flexible it is. No matter what you do and no matter how much time you can commit. If you love to read and you know it can change the trajectory of a child’s life, then being a Reading Captain is for you.

You can post a reading tip to your own personal social media account. You can hand out flyers about your library’s programs. You can host a reading skills workshop for parents. All of this earns you the title of Reading Captain.

Every third Thursday, I meet with the South Philly Reading Captain group to discuss upcoming events at our neighborhood library branches, events we are hosting, and ways we can improve our outreach to families. At each meeting, we encourage one another because, after all, this is a volunteer gig. The support we give to each other keeps us going.

I work full-time, have a toddler, and am expecting my second child this summer. And yet, the time I have been able to dedicate to Read by 4th has been exciting and enriching for me and my family. It is a very flexible commitment because I only do what I can.

Months prior to that fateful day when I saw the post about becoming a Reading Captain, I was discouraged by how little my day job had to do with reading and books (which is what I did for eight years at my prior job).

Becoming a Reading Captain happened at just the right time – I knew it was time to get back out there and encourage families to engage in reading with their kids. These are simple things that make a huge difference in a child’s life and in our neighborhoods.

Are you interested in becoming a Reading Captain? Come to Read by 4th’s Mayoral Summit on Tuesday, March 5th.

This is the perfect event to attend to get training, learn about Read by 4th, and hear from Mayor Kenney about the important work Reading Captains do. There will be free dinner for those who attend the Summit Reading Captain training and lots of networking.

I’ll be there with the other South Philly Reading Captains and hope to see you there, too!

Register today!

Follow the South Philly Reading Captain’s Instagram account: @southphillyreads.


Lauren Popp has called Philadelphia home for over 10 years. She is married to her husband Cory – together they have a 3-year-old named Juniper and a baby on the way! Currently, she works full time for the Trauma Healing Institute at the American Bible Society. She started a blog called Juniper Ave in 2017 to help promote diverse books and became a Reading Captains in 2018. For most of her career she was the program director of a literacy organization and got to see firsthand the impact representation in books can make on young people. She believes books and stories have the power to grow and enhance community. Her favorite genres are memoirs, young adult, and historical fiction.