It sounds unusual—given her ample volunteer efforts to promote literacy—but Gloria Heiss was not always an advocate for reading.
“I actually hated reading growing up. It took a long time for me to realize it can be fun,” Heiss said.
“But my mom, thankfully, walked through some special lessons with me and over time I was able to improve. I just want that experience for other kids,” she said of her passion that grew for literacy.
Improve she did.
Heiss, 20, was home schooled and also attended Beloit Memorial High School part time and was a National Honor Society member. In high school, she participated in the Kids Against Hunger initiative that helped send 250,000 packaged meals to Guatemala.
She’s also a former contestant in the Miss Beloit Scholarship Pageant. Her pageant platform was about the importance of early childhood literacy. Presently, she is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin in the School of Business.
And since her high school years and beyond she has continued to be highly involved with volunteering for early literacy programs in the community. Her first foray into the subject occurred when she visited a daycare where she learned she liked reading to kids.
Then she met Tara Tinder and Bill Flanagan and became involved with the Literacy for Life Initiative.
Tinder is Executive Director of the Stateline Community Foundation and Flanagan is the Literacy for Life Initiative Coordinator. Together with the School District of Beloit and other stakeholders, they launched the Literacy for Life Initiative in 2018. The aim was for early exposure to literacy and school readiness to get children on the same playing field as their more socioeconomically advantaged peers.
Heiss said she soon realized, “Beloit has one of the harshest achievement gaps and that really moves me. There are so many great kids in Beloit.”
Part of her activities have included applying for grants for special projects and more.
“Gloria has been a critically important part of Beloit’s Literacy for Life Initiative beginning with her days at the high school where she and other volunteers put together an event at the library where kids and their families could participate in games and activities,” Flanagan said.
“They also earned tickets for a raffle of beautifully painted themed bookcases. One of my greatest memories since getting involved in this project was seeing a boy who won one of the bookcases become totally overjoyed, jumping up and down he was so excited he got the Star Wars bookcase. Gloria organized that event which brought over a 100 hundred families and kids to the library to promote literacy.”
And since then, “She has written several grants to bring books and activities to kids and families in the city most especially this summer where she is partnering with the School District for a van that will visit parks and places where kids can be read to, get books, play games and see how much fun reading is, and why it’s so important,” Flanagan said.
Heiss said she is looking forward to this summer when she will follow the district lunch route for kids in Beloit and offer them books.
“Gloria is a very talented young lady who has found a way to take her passion to grow the importance of early literacy,” said Monica Krysztopa, Chief of Communications and Marketing in the Beloit School District. “Her work and motivation is an example of what one person can do to make a lasting impression.”
Besides her studies, Heiss also has part-time jobs. Pre-COVID-19, she worked for the Madison Reading Project taking a bookmobile van around to people in Dane County. Presently, she is a Business Emerging Leaders mentor working with UW students who come from diverse backgrounds and have strong academic and leadership skills.
She also is on the staff to help students in the School of Business. Heiss lives on campus and is a house fellow helping dormitory residents with residence life as well.
In the future, she said she would like to complete a degree in finance and become a wealth management advisor. And until then, she will continue her volunteer efforts with literacy in Beloit.