WATERBURY CENTER — April is going to be a very big month for the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF). After 25 years under the leadership of founder Duncan McDougall, the nonprofit that strives to inspire and educate under-resourced children will be passed on to its second executive director, Laura Rice.
Furthermore, McDougall has run the operation, which has provided over $10 million worth of books to 375,000 children throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, from his garage all of these years. Rice will not be reporting to McDougall’s house for work, though. CLiF is marking its 25-year anniversary by moving into the first facility actually designed for its needs.
“We’re very excited about that,” said McDougall. “It’s in Waterbury Center and it’s going to be much larger, and it’s purpose-built, designed exactly the way we need it for our operations. The first week of April, we’ll be moving in.”
Rice said that CLiF has the fortunate problem of too many books and too many people onboard for the outfit to continue at the founder’s residence, and that it’s time to move on to a bigger space.
“In some ways, I almost feel guilty. Duncan has worked so profoundly hard for 25 years, and spearheaded the acquisition of the land and the new building, and I’m the one who gets to move in there,” she said with a laugh.
“But if you know Duncan, he’s the most humble and generous person you’ll ever want to meet,” she added. “I think he’s just super happy for all of us. And we have made him promise that he will stop by often.”
McDougall informed the CLiF Board of Directors of his intention to step down five years ago, so the shift was not unexpected.
Reflecting on all that he’s built from the ground up, McDougall is proud to have lived CLiF’s motto of “opening books, opening minds, opening doors.” The 5013c organization has been donating books and distributing grants to children in need without any state or federal funding, all with the mission of inspiring a love of reading and writing in elementary and middle school-aged children.
Northshire Day School received a $500 grant from CLiF in 2021 as part of its “Revive Your Literacy” Program. NDS used the money to buy books and distributed them at a family picnic to kick off the 2021 school year.
CLiF has also done reading programs with Bennington schools, including Pownal Elementary.
“There are thousands of children whose language arts skills are lagging, and because of that, there’s a higher probability that they might not complete high school, that they might not continue on after high school,” said McDougall. “And there are many other negative repercussions to growing up without strong literacy.”
With elementary school reading and writing proficiency scores dipping in recent years across the state following the pandemic, the mission of CLiF may be more important now than ever. In addition to continuing to expand their reach, grow the staff and continue the direction CLiF is heading, Rice says she will remain focused on literacy being a collaborative community effort.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for CLiF,” she said. “We’re going to figure out what are the best ways for us to deepen our programming. (And find out) what is it that our community partners, our schools, our libraries, the many community organizations that we work with in order to reach the kids – what are they telling us in terms of what is most needed by their communities?”
As for McDougall, he may be stepping into a less active role, but he has no intention to stop stirring young imaginations. One of his favorite elements of CLiF, McDougall will still be part of the squad of presenters who bring stories to life in every corner of the twin-state area.
“I actually think the most powerful thing we do is we send more than 60 professional presenters, authors, illustrators, poets, storytellers and graphic novelists to work directly with kids, wherever they may be from Pownal to Pittsburgh, New Hampshire.”
One of those presenters, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, is actually at Pownal Elementary School all week from March 20-24 teaching her “Storykeepers” curriculum, which is a look at family genealogy, storytelling, research methods and community history.
Another point of pride for McDougall has been the program he established not long after founding CLif that’s allowed incarcerated mothers and fathers to read to their children.
“Children of prison inmates are at very high risk of growing up with low literacy skills,” he said. “So we have regular workshops with inmates to encourage and help them to be comfortable reading and sharing books with their kids. We provide them with new books that they can send home and they write notes to their children in the books. We also provide recording equipment in the prisons so their kids can hear their mom or dad read stories to them.”
McDougall offered nothing but praise for Rice and confidence she is the right person for the job.
“She has over 20 years of professional experience at mission-driven organizations, including the last 11 years in leadership roles at WISE, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit dedicated to ending gender-based violence in the Upper Valley. She joins CLiF already well-acquainted with the organization’s work, having previously spent six years on the board of directors, including a stint as CLiF board chair,” a news release last week said.
CLiF is an entirely donor-funded organization. If you’d like to donate books, they ask that the books be brand new to make it a more special experience for the children. Anyone wishing to donate funds can find out how at https://clifonline.org/how-to-help/ .