2015 Innovations in Literacy Award

Washington, D.C. (May 6, 2015) – The National Book Foundation today announced that Reach Incorporated has been awarded the 2015 Innovations in Reading Prize. Reach improves youth literacy outcomes in Washington D.C. by training high school students, who are not thriving in school, to be elementary school reading tutors and children’s book authors.

The award was announced in the Washington Post this morning. The National Book Foundation’s executive director, Harold Augenbraum says in the article, “Reach stood out among 159 applications we received this year with its forward-thinking approach to engagement in reading and the social world. We think its initiatives can produce significant results in Washington and in other communities across the country.”

The National Book Foundation selects a single national winner who has, “developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading,” to receive a $10,000 grant.

Mark Hecker, the founder and executive director of Reach, stated, “We are honored that the work of our teens, and the staff who support them, is being honored by the National Book Foundation. With this support and attention, we look forward to authoring new books and supporting the reading development of additional elementary school students. D.C.’s teens are ready to do great work their communities.”


Reach Incorporated develops confident, grade-level readers and capable leaders by training teens to teach younger students. Through this unique relationship, both the teen tutors and their elementary school students experience significant reading growth. Young readers receive individualized support while teen tutors solidify foundational literacy skills in an engaging and empowering way.

The National Book Foundation celebrates the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.

Media Contact:
Selamawit “Sully” Mulugeta
218 D Street SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
P: (202) 445-4263

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Big News!


Washington DC – May 13, 2015 – Reach Incorporated, a DC program that trains high school students to be elementary school tutors and children’s book authors, announces a three year, $300,000 investment from the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation.

Reach’s unique model trains struggling teen readers to support elementary school students in need of additional support to achieve proficiency by the end of 3rd grade. Through this unique relationship, both the teen tutors and their elementary school students experience significant reading growth. Young readers receive individualized support while teen tutors solidify foundational literacy skills in an engaging and empowering way.

Mark Hecker, Executive Director of Reach Incorporated, reported, “This gift will, without doubt, change the trajectory of the organization. Through unconditionality, patience, and rigor, Reach builds readers who will become our city’s future leaders.”

Since 2010, Reach Incorporated has operated after-school programs in DC public schools, public charter schools, and community-based settings. Elementary school participants average one-and-a-half grade levels of reading growth per year of participation while their teen tutors average more than two grade levels of growth per year. Additionally, the program cultivates high-level leadership skills and graduates 90% of its tutors on time, though it recruits tutors with significant academic and social need.

“We see a lot of exciting opportunities to support organizations that address our mission,” said Josh Rales, President of the Rales Foundation. “The impact Reach is creating per dollar invested is as impressive as I have seen.”

This investment will allow the program to double in size, growing to serve 500 participants at nine DC program sites – focusing on the city’s lowest performing schools – in the next three years. This catalytic investment from the Rales Foundation will help Reach develop a comprehensive growth strategy, deepen its impact at current partner schools, and build the capacity necessary to serve additional schools and students.

Media Inquiries: Please contact Selamawit “Sully” Mulugeta at sully@reachincorporated.org or (202) 445 – 4263, or visit the website at www.reachincorporated.org.

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About the Rales Foundation: The Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation is dedicated to providing children and families from low income backgrounds with transformative opportunities to thrive through enhanced education, health and social services.  The Rales Foundation’s efforts are focused on supporting high-performance non-profits, forming public-private partnerships, and establishing innovative programs to achieve this objective.

Norman and Ruth Rales began their lives under humble circumstances.  Together they built a brilliant life filled with family, friends, community, work, and giving to others.  Their legacy continues through the Rales Foundation.


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A Day in The Life: Ballou 2015

Most of our extended Reach family never have the opportunity to see our kids in action. I’d like to change that and help paint the picture of the typical sights and sounds of a Reach session.

My first stop: Ballou Senior High School. This week, our tutors and students researched and organized important information they’d want to include in a biography about a selected famous person.

Check out the sessions below!

Training: Wednesday, March 25th

Ms. Sully, Jakeyla, Herbert & Marques

Pictured: Ms. Sully explains Wednesday’s warm-up: Who Am I? It will be Thursday’s extra-time activity.

Daniel - Barack Obama

Pictured: Daniel poses with his famous person index card. Each tutor had to determine what his/her card said using only the clues given in conversation with other tutors.

Tyeshia Reading

Pictured: Tyeshia reads from Trinitoga – a novel in stories by DC teens -  this year’s tutor read selection.


Tutoring: Thursday, March 26th

3.26.15 - Litzi, Nathan & Harmony

Pictured: Litzi, Nathan and Harmony working on Thursday’s Do Now: Famous People Word Search.

3.26.15 - Daniel and Joey

Pictured: Joey (Litzi’s younger brother) and his tutor, Daniel 

3.26.15 - Jakeyla & students

Pictured: Jakeyla, Ballou’s newly promoted Lead Tutor, is helping three students work on Thursday’s Do Now: Famous People Word Search.

Thanks for listening,

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Our 6th Birthday!

On April 3rd, Reach celebrated its 6th birthday. What? You didn’t get us anything? There’s still time! Here are six ways you can help Reach right now.

6) Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@ReachInc)!

5) Encourage a local businessperson to attend our April 17th breakfast where he or she can learn about how companies can support our summer program.

4) Become a monthly donor.

  • $10/month = instructional materials for five elementary school students.
  • $50/month = one teen’s participation in our summer program.
  • $100/month = one teen’s participation in our after-school tutoring program.

3) Have kids? Save the date on Saturday, May 9th, so you can bring your young ones to our 3rd Annual Literacy Carnival.

2) Buy one of our books and send it to a young reader in your life.

1) Spread the stories of Tre’Shawn, Arveone, Za’Metria, Kyare, and Zaria by sharing Mark’s recent talk from TEDxDuke.

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Alumnus Spotlight: Kyare

It wasn’t long ago that we shared Kyare’s college essay, a piece in which he shared the role that Reach played in his maturation. So, consider this Part II.

Kyare ReadingAfter a writing session with support from Reach staff, Kyare felt that he had finished his personal statement. We invited him into the office to share it with the entire team. Though some in the office barely knew him, most were left fighting back tears. This work can be difficult. Kyare’s story reminds us why we work so hard.

Like proud parents, it’s hard for us to imagine why a college wouldn’t accept Kyare, but the competitiveness of the admissions process is real. He did not enter high school as a strong student, but he showed tremendous growth over his four years at Eastern. Who could not be inspired by his incredible improvement and his extraordinary commitment to his community?

We do know, however, that our hopes and beliefs cannot guarantee Kyare admission to college. So, when he sent in his applications, we all waited.

Kyare applied to a number of schools, but he always talked about two – American and Morehouse. Weeks passed and the decision date approached. He got into his first college, but his response was muted. It wasn’t one of the schools he really wanted to attend.

Then, on a Tuesday morning, my phone buzzed to alert me to a text message:

“Mr. Mark, guess what?”

I responded immediately with, “What?!”

And then, of course, minutes passed without a response. The longest minutes ever.

Then: “I got into Morehouse.”

My vision got a bit blurry. I’ll admit it. In a world that sometimes focuses on stats Kyare Leonardand ignores stories, Kyare got into Morehouse. In a world where college can change families, Kyare got into Morehouse. In a world in which fairness doesn’t always win, Kyare got into Morehouse.

Pride doesn’t begin to explain our feelings. Kyare is why we do this.

We are all still waiting to hear about the financial aid available. And, for Kyare, that will play a significant role in determining whether he will be able to attend his dream school. But, no matter what happens, no one will ever be able to take away from Kyare the fact that he got into Morehouse.

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Honesty & Integrity in Evaluation

For the first time, we included the statement below in a grant proposal. This is our effort to proactively define what makes Reach different.


While Reach is strongly committed to achieving the results necessary to secure funding, the organization is equally committed to integrity in the way we collect and communicate program results.

Throughout our history, we have chosen to serve the most challenging students, even when that commitment may make our program outcomes look less impressive.

In the context of today’s testing, all students are organized into four categories: below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. Schools are judged on how many students they can move to proficient and advanced. For this reason, it makes sense for schools to spend limited resources on moving basic students to proficiency.

At Reach, we are focused on the most challenging work. We intentionally recruit those students who are labeled as below basic, even when we know it may take years to get to proficiency. This is just one way that we choose a standard higher than many others.

Another example is that we measure participant retention from October 1st. Many organizations collect baseline data on November 15th, when the most challenging students have already left – meaning, according to program data, it is as though they never existed. We could improve our retention data by doing the same. We, however, feel it important to count every participant that joins our program.

That is the standard to which we hold ourselves accountable. By doing so, we have lost funding opportunities, yet we remain committed to the most challenging participants, even when this comes at a significant cost.

Reach’s work is slow and messy. It is not linear. Our work requires immense patience in a world that demands immediate returns. Because of our belief in the long-term value of our model, we remain willing to weather the times when program data fails to show significant short-term gains.

At Reach, honesty and integrity drive the way we make decisions. As a young organization, we continue to value the learning derived from all available assessments. When difficult, we will continue to make the hardest decisions, even when we make the path to success more challenging for ourselves.

Each day, in the successes and stories of our young people, we see the positive results of these decisions. Sometimes, it just requires a little patience.

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Black Lives Matter: A.N.T.s


keredding photography

As part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, our Curriculum & Creativity Coordinator created and performed a piece sharing her thoughts. Well received by many, Lori has been invited to perform this piece at various venues across DC and the country.

* Some language in the piece below may be offensive to young readers.

By: Lori Pitts

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Have you ever killed a bug? Take a moment to visualize one time that you did. Why did you do it? Because it was about to eat your food? It could bite or sting you. It might come in your house. It just looks gross. I once killed a roly-poly simply because it was big and it scared me.

We’re a very fear-based society. We do a lot of things “just in case” to arm ourselves against potential harm. For example, I prepared two monologues for tonight just in case you don’t like this one. Because if you don’t like it, then you might not like me. And if you don’t like me, then I might not have any more friends. So we prepare.

Just in case.

I once overheard this conversation between a little boy and his mom. They were headed to the car in front of their house. The boy said, “Coooooool, Mom! Look at all these ants!” You could see the excitement on his face…and the fear and disgust on his mom’s. “Squish them before they make it to the house,” she said. The boy protested, “Nooo! They’re just outside.” To which the mom’s response was, “You never know. Just in case.” And there it is again.

Just. In. Case.

This is something we do in our society. It permeates every inch, every decision, every belief we follow. Just in case. We prepare for things that may never happen. We arm ourselves against the unknown.

Let’s say that ants stands for All Negro Teens. So squishing ants, killing black teens, must have some “just in case” reason. Why else would it happen? Kill the A.N.T.s in case they invade our homes—kill them just in case they came from robbing a convenience store. Kill the A.N.T.s in case they bite—kill them because they might be carrying guns. Kill the A.N.T.s because they have too many legs—kill them because they look different from us. Kill the A.N.T.s because they are scary—kill them because they scare me…

Just in case.

But ants are known for their strength. Their teamwork. If you kick an ant pile, ants don’t give up. They start rebuilding immediately. Together.

If there were more movies like A Bugs Life that introduced ants as lovable creatures, I wonder, would there be less fear? If the only two animated Disney films about black people portrayed the characters as people rather than animals, I wonder, would we be less other and less scary?

People try to silence us because of our size and strength. They pile on the shit thinking we’ll be buried. But ants can carry 50 times their own weight. We will throw off their chokeholds and bullets. We will carry the weight of racism and unjust punishments until we have enough ants to throw it off our backs. Far away from here. Far away from our rolling hills and purple mountain majesties.

A.N.T.s are strong. A.N.T.s do matter. Black lives matter.

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“I believe unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At Reach, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what makes us unique. We’re so proud of the organization we’re building. Something exciting is happening. But, what exactly is the “special sauce” that makes Reach different? Often, you hear educators speak about accountability and rigor. We’re beginning to realize that Reach is built on much different pillars – most notably, unconditionality and love. Through those things, all else is achieved.

We learned this through listening. As always, when trying to find answers to difficult questions, we turned to our teen tutors. When asked to explain what Reach means to them or why it matters to them, we kept hearing the same response: Reach is like a family.

Like every family, we’re not perfect. We get mad at each other. We yell. We apologize. But, aJusna Hugs important, we make permanent commitments. We keep kids safe. We listen. At times, we give rides, provide meals, and pay for clothes. When things get bad, sometimes we’re the first phone call. And we answer.

And yes, we read. But why are teens willing to dig in and improve themselves over the long-term? See above. We promise no quick fixes, but we commit to the journey. The motto is simple: Whatever you need, whenever you need it.

Personally, I keep returning to the thoughts of my friend Neil. When asked what young men of color needed most, he said, “buckets and buckets of love.” We believe it applies to all teens. Neil’s words and my experience have led me to change some of my own boundaries. Recently, I’m much more willing to tell kids I love them, even when I don’t like them.

As Reach grows, I wish for us that we continue to love courageously, patiently, and unconditionally. Because, if there’s one thing I always take away from Dr. King’s existence, it’s his willingness to offer unconditional love, even when difficult. On this day, and all the others, I hope to honor him by doing that.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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You Gave. We’ll Give.

Last month, we launched a challenge. We challenged you to help us raise $75,000 during the month of December. We’re so proud to announce that we raised $97,080. With your generosity, we will be able to support our programs serving readers and leaders in DC schools.

And, as promised, because you gave, we’ll give. We will donate 1,000 of our teen-authored books to DC kids. We plan to donate half of these books to DC Public School libraries who have the desire, but not the budget, to stock our stories. The remaining books will be donated to school and nonprofit partners.

Your support will allow our programs and our participants to continue growing. And, you will allow us to put engaging, diverse stories into the hands of children across the city. We thank you.

You can see a list of our You Give We Give donors below:

Greta Adler
Leslie Adler
The Advisory Board Company
Flynn & Brit Barrison
Risa Berkower
Reginald & Kathlyn Berry
Kimberly Bohling
Joe Breslin
Charlie & Marie Brown
Gene Burkett
Barb Campbell & Joe Delaney
Capital One
Capitol Hill Comm Fdn
Jennie Carey
Meredith Cheng
Choice Hotels
Andrew & Loretta Cohen
Sarah Comeau
Laurie & Zack Cooper
Peter Cressman
Kathy Crutcher
Chantelle Cunningham
Laura, Rajeev & Kavi Darolia
Laurie Davis & Joseph Sellers
Jason & Suzanne Derr
Monica & David Dixon
Marian Drake
Revi-ruth Enriquez
Paul Erickson
ESR Foundation
Jane & Wally Evans
Fife Family Foundation
Harriet Fink
Bob Fitzmaurice
Debbie & Joe Fletcher
Erin Fletcher
Jade Floyd
Anne & Matt Gialanella
Kate Ginty
Zach Goldman
John Grant
Mary & Richard Grant
Tom & Kate Grant
Donna Hecker
Scott & Beth Hecker
Bob & Genette Henderson
Adam & Rachel Hollowell
Lanae & Mike Holmes
Cathy Hozack
Anoop Jain
Karin Johanson
Amanda Kane
Erna & Michael Kerst
Matt & Kara King
Korn & Miller Family Fdn
Joanne Kurtzberg
Dara La Porte
Catherine Lewis
Tara Libert
Suzanne Lieb
Felix & Jordan Bookey Lloyd
Richard & Nancy Marriott Fdn
Matt Mazur
Linda McDowell
Anne McKenna
Dan McKenna
Nupur Mehta & Laura Feiveson
Taylor Meyer
Bill & Anne Miller
Niki Mock & Phil Leibovitz
Morrison & Foerster Foundation
Dan & Anna Northrup
Jane Obaza
Julie O’Sullivan
Lori Pitts
Dustin & Kristen Pizzo
Laurence Platt & Clare Herington
Nancy Polikoff & Cheryl Swannack
Prep Tutors
Adam Roberts
Debra Roberts
Katrina Rouse
Dianne & Lior Samuelson
TJ & Shae Schneider
Ann & Irwin Sentilles
C. Sierawski & J. Kaufman
Clinton Smith
Kirk Smith
Lina Swislocki
Dan Taylor & Sharie Brown
Bob Tomasko & Brenda Turnbull
Kelly Wardle
Nancy & Bill Wardle
Whispering Bells Foundation
Greg & Caitlin Wyant
Rick Young & Linda Fink
MB & Edna Zale Foundation
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College Essay: Writing My Success Story

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

As a 12th grade student, Kyare is working on college essays. He chose to write on the prompt above, found in The Common Application. It was wonderful to hear Kyare talk about his Reach experience as something so transformational. We’re incredibly proud of him. We hope you enjoy his words:

“When Sal and Ernie went back to their favorite pond, they did the things they did when they were younger. They felt relieved to have a normal day.”

The young African-AmeriKyare Readingcan author from DC sat down with his recently published book, The Gloomy Light, in front of a group children. As he read, he showed them the pictures that brought his words to life and watched as the children listened eagerly to his funny voices: “The button lies within the statue that flies,” said the Old Wise Monkey in an ancient, raspy voice. As the author finished reading, he introduced himself to the crowd. That author was me. It was a children’s book, but writing it helped me to become an adult.

As a child, I only thought about my friends, my family, and myself. I did not have any responsibilities in the world. I did not realize that my actions could have consequences. As a child, I was not aware that my blackness could influence my life in such a serious way. It was teachers and mentors that taught me that I would need to work harder to avoid the life outcomes experienced by so many black men. And, in the process, I could become a role model.

The most significant factor in my transition from childhood to young adulthood was my participation in a program called Reach Incorporated. Reach is a program through which high school students become elementary school reading tutors. The program helps both the tutor and the student grow. Tutors learn how to be leaders while students learn the basics of reading fluency and comprehension.

Reach tutors can earn promotions based on good work. Both in school and in the program, I showed leadership and dedication to the kids. I also focused on doing the best I could in my classes. Because of my hard work, I was promoted to Lead Tutor and then Junior Staff. Junior Staff is the highest honor Reach gives – only seven people in the entire city ever earned the honor. Earning those promotions taught me the importance of working hard, remaining committed, and doing your best to support others.

As teen tutors, we did not see a lot of diversity in children’s books. We wanted to create new books our students could relate to. In the last two years, I have become a published author of two children’s books, The Gloomy Light and Khalil’s Swagtown Adventure (both available on Amazon). I also had the chance to read my books to groups of elementary school students. After one reading, a young boy came up to me and asked, “Can I make a book too?” I told him, “of course!” In that moment, I realized I had become a role model to the next generation of young people in my community.

During Reach’s summer program, we had the chance to participate in a philanthropy project. Reach gave us $3,000, and we had to give it away. Through this process, we got the chance to learn about other issues in the community. In each of the last two summers, I have learned about organizations that address the issue of youth incarceration. As a child, I did not really think about this issue. But now, I ardently support those helping teens that did not have the same level of support I did.

As an adult, you are responsible for being a leader and role model for people younger than you. You have the opportunity to influence others to achieve more than they thought possible. In Reach, I learned how to be my best self, become a role model, give back to my community, and help others do better for themselves. As I go to college, I know that I will continue to improve myself and my community.

Kyare LeonardWhen I entered high school, I was satisfied being average. Through participating in Reach, I learned to become responsible and to challenge myself. My GPA has improved each year, and I now take IB and AP classes – in 11th grade, I was even the IB Student of the Year! Reach showed me what I could be. When I am in college, I hope to come back to see the students I once tutored. I want them to see me as a leader and a role model. By seeing me – now a responsible adult – I want them to see what they can be.

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