Maureen Rover was having her usual coffee and muffin for breakfast one morning in the late 1990s when a newspaper story about New York City state test scores caught her attention. She was dismayed to see that a third of the city’s public-school children were far behind in reading at the crucial gateway of third grade. Out went her plan to relax in retirement after a career in banking and educational publishing. Instead, Ms. Rover, now 74 years old, founded the Reading Team, a nonprofit that brings free literacy lessons and books to poor children at high risk of failure.
Launched in 2001, it has grown to reach more than 800 children in Harlem, from pre-school through eighth grade, at P.S. 36 and a separate site nearby. An independent study in 2009 found the program had a significant impact.
Ms. Rover, a New Yorker who volunteers as president of the nonprofit, recently received an award from World of Children, a California group that honors five people around the globe each year who make a difference in children’s lives. The $50,000 prize will go to support the Reading Team, whose $1 million annual budget is funded by a range of foundations and donors.
What is key, Ms. Rover said, is that the Reading Team starts working with children early, through partnerships with a range of Harlem childcare centers. “When they’re 3 and 4, they still believe they can do anything,” she said. In the nonprofit’s after-school program for later elementary grades, the work is more difficult: “By the time they’re referred to us, they’re already feeling they’re not very smart or they’re not good kids because they feel lost or limited in their abilities.”