Those shaping Beloit's young minds honored at Literacy for Life Luncheon

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News (From left, back): Rich Franklin, Josh Lock and Bill Lock of Culver's, School District of Beloit Director of Early Literacy Rachelle Elliott, Executive Director of Nutrition and Health Associates Sue Stein, Beloit Area Community Health Center CEO Julie Sprecher, Family Services Executive Director John Pfleiderer, Jan Knutson of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Head Start and Early Head Start Executive Director Carol Mishler, Beloit Health System President and CEO Tim McKevett, (front, from left) Educator Sha'Nita Rhea, Blackhawk Technical College Educator Michelle Weirich, Bobbi Sampson, student Gloria Heiss, Beloit Public Library Director Nick Dimassis and Beloit Fire Chief Brad Liggett received accepted awards at Beloit's Literacy For Life Initiative Recognition Luncheon held Thursday at La Casa Grande.

BELOIT - Those instrumental in shaping Beloit's future through educating its youngest citizens were honored at Beloit's Literacy for Life Initiative Recognition Luncheon held Thursday at La Casa Grande.

Beloit's Literacy For Life Initiative is a partnership of citizens, non-profits, service providers, municipal government, corporate entities and educators promoting early literacy. They work on a variety of efforts to get more books in the hands of young children and to educate their caregivers to speak and read with youngsters to help develop language.

Chair of Beloit Literacy for Life Initiative Bill Flanagan said early literacy is important to promote student learning as well as strengthening the economy and democracy.

Those with the initiative are working to create a culture of literacy and early learning which will become the expectation in Beloit, said Michele Erickson, executive director of Wisconsin Literacy, a coalition of 70 literacy agencies across the state.

Erickson awarded Stateline Community Foundation (SCF) Executive Director Tara Tinder a community engagement award for her efforts supporting the initiative.

Erickson said early literacy means high graduation rates, a competent workforce, 4K programs filled with children ready to learn, a community with a higher tax base and property values and a healthy community.

At the luncheon the Founders Awards were given to the School District of Beloit Director of Early Literacy Rachelle Elliott and former Superintendent Dr. Tom Johnson.

Elliott, who accepted on behalf of herself and Johnson, credited Johnson for launching the project and thanked community agencies who got behind it.

The Corporate Partner Award went to Culver's, accepted by Beloit Culver's co-owner Bill Lock.

The Cornerstone Award, presented by Monica Krysztopa, went to Beloit Area Community Health Center and Beloit Health System for getting books distributed to children.

"Beloit Health System understands, embraces and integrates literacy through its organization and the community," Krysztopa said.

Beloit Health System President and CEO Tim McKevett accepted the award on behalf of Beloit Health System, and thanked the pediatric department for their support.

Beloit Area Community Health Center CEO Julie Sprecher commended the initiative and Stateline Community Foundation for making literacy a top priority.

The Youth Partner Award, presented by Elliott, went to Gloria Heiss, for rounding up books and enlisting high school volunteers.

"She is a go-getter, enthusiastic and has a brilliant future in front of her," Elliott said.

The Outreach Awards went to St. Paul's Lutheran Church and Beloit Public Library. St. Paul's Lutheran Church has incorporated literacy in all church activities and provides soup lunches for the community. Jan Knutson accepted it on behalf of the church, and Beloit Public Library Director Nick Dimassis accepted the award for the library.

The Step Up Award went to Sha'Nita Rhea, an English teacher at Beloit Memorial High School. Rhea put on Blessings for Babies, a Beloit baby shower at her church. Rhea said the next Blessings for Babies event is already being planned for Oct. 12.

The Visionary Award went to Family Services and was accepted by Executive Director John Pfleiderer who encouraged people to adopt Little Free Libraries in the community.

The First Steps Award went to Head Start Early Childhood for encouraging and mentoring parents in literacy promotion. It was accepted by Head Start and Early Head Start Executive Director Carol Mishler.

Advocate Awards went to volunteer Bobbi Sampson and Richard Franklin of Culver's. Sampson started Beloit's Imagination Library in 2015 with the Stateline Literacy Council and found grant funding to support it. The program dispenses free books to kids.

Franklin was honored for helping distribute books at Culver's in a variety of activities.

The Non-Profit Award went to Nutrition and Health Associates and Rock County WIC Program. Director Sue Stein accepted the award, giving special thanks to the community and Elliott.

The Community Leadership Award went to Fire Chief Brad Liggett for dispatching firefighters out in the community to read and interact with kids. Liggett said firefighters host reading events and introduce kids to fire prevention.

The Educator Award went to educator Michelle Weirich of Blackhawk Technical College for promoting early literacy through her teaching and course writing in her early childhood classes. Weirich said she encourages children encounter a book a day.

At Thursday's luncheon, Tinder said she was excited to share SCF and the Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) will be screening the documentary "No Small Matter" in next year's BIFF, a documentary showing how early education and care benefit America's social and economic future.

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