BANGOR – Dirigo Reads, a program that aims to put a book in the hands of every Maine first grader each month during the school year by 2025, is announcing the addition of 36 schools that will participate in the program during the next school year. This brings the total number of participating schools to 87 for the 2022-23 school year, and increases the number of estimated first graders in Maine to receive new books every month through the program by about 77 percent, or approximately 1,200 additional students.
“Last year, Dirigo Reads gave out more than 15,000 books to first graders in Maine,” said Karen Cashman, co-founder of Dirigo Reads. “In the span of three school years, Dirigo Reads has put more than 27,000 books in the hands of Maine kids. With the addition of 36 more schools spread over 22 communities, that number will continue to grow.”
Dirigo Reads’ mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of children in Maine through literacy and share a little optimism along the way. This is accomplished by giving first graders in participating schools a brand new book to keep during every month of the school year. It began in 2019 with six communities and will grow to include 87 schools during the 2022-23 school year. Estimates on the number of students enrolled in the schools will bring the program from serving approximately 1,600 students each month to approximately 2,800 students each month starting in the fall.
“Last year, it was a big deal for this program to add some larger communities with multiple schools when Bangor and Auburn were added to the list,” said Dan Cashman, co-founder of Dirigo Reads. “This year, as it expands even further, Dirigo Reads is proud to add Portland and Augusta to this program. Three new counties are also joining the program for the first time this year: York, Cumberland, and Oxford Counties, meaning that Dirigo Reads will be distributing free books to first graders every month of the school year in every one of Maine’s 16 counties.”
Dirigo Reads is operationally supported by United Way of Eastern Maine, and the founding Dirigo Star partner is Machias Savings Bank.
“Dirigo Reads went from a pilot program in ‘normal’ times to a program that is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of first graders during uncertain times,” said Larry Barker, president, and CEO of Machias Savings Bank. “We knew immediately that Dirigo Reads would be an important part of first graders’ lives once it got started, but we couldn’t have predicted just how important it would become for kids all over the state. Machias Savings Bank is proud to be a part of this program, and happy to know that the program continues to expand to include more students from all over Maine. By saying Yes! to Dirigo Reads, together, we’re building stronger readers, which creates a stronger overall education for the youth in Maine.”
Additional partners of Dirigo Reads include, Bangor Savings Bank, Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, Northern Light Health, Changing Seasons Federal Credit Union, Woodlands Senior Living, PCHC, United Way of Eastern Maine, Cross Insurance, Hannaford, and The First. Additional partners are necessary for the program to reach more first graders.
“Dirigo Reads wouldn’t exist without these partners, and it absolutely can’t grow without additional partners,” said Dan Cashman. “There are lots of options from which to support Dirigo Reads for both large and small businesses, and we will be spending the next couple of months feverishly reaching out to potential partners to make sure this program is sustainable. But we are frequently asked how people can help, and the most significant way to help this program is to connect us with a business looking to put some money toward a very worthwhile effort.”
There are about 12,000 first graders enrolled in Maine public schools. Dirigo Reads provided books to about 13 percent of this population in the last school year, and will increase to about 23.2 percent of first graders in Maine for the 2022-23 school year.
Schools and businesses interested in being a part of Dirigo Reads should visit www.DirigoReads.org and click on “Contact,” where a form is available to submit all necessary information.
Any organizations interested in partnering with Dirigo Reads, or schools with first grade classes that would like to join the program can find more details at www.DirigoReads.org.