Thumbs up to the Aspire Foundation and its founders, Mary and Samuel Omotoye, on the launch of a new initiative to get free books to children in low-income sections of the city.

The foundation, which is working in partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL), has launched its free-book initiative serving children, up to age 5, in low-income neighborhoods in the 24501 and 24504 ZIP code zones in the city.

Each month, the child receives a free book in the mail, personalized with his or her name. The Aspire Foundation pays DPIL $2.10 per book, which are all chosen by a panel of childhood experts working with Penguin Random House, which fulfills each order. The yearly cost to the foundation for each child enrolled is $25 or $125 for the full five-year program. Grants from the Centra Foundation, the Schewel Charitable Foundation and the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation, along with individual donors, have just about covered the goal of $25,000 that will cover the first two years for the 700 children living in the two ZIP codes.

According to the Omotoyes’ research, there are approximately 5,000 children, aged 5 years and younger, in the city. Their goal is to eventually provide free books to all those children.

We can’t overstate the importance of children being able to read, at or above grade level, when they enter the educational system. Studies have shown that if a child is not reading at least at grade level by the third-grade, his chances for future academic success are severely curtailed.

According to the Reach Out and Read National Center in Boston, fewer than 48 percent of young children in the country are read to daily; only 36 percent of children from low-income families are read to daily. If you recall that Lynchburg’s poverty rate is about 24 percent, that translates into hundreds of kids from low-income homes who are read to only every now and then.

If you would like to learn more about the Aspire Foundation, just email aspirefoundation2018@gmail.com.

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Thumbs up to Robert Hurt, former Fifth District congressman, who was named earlier this week the new dean of Liberty University’s Helms School of Government.

Hurt represented the district from 2011 to 2017, stepping down after deciding against re-election. He then became the executive director of LU’s Center for Law & Government.

He has more than two decades of public service in local and state government, too, starting out as a prosecutor in his native Pittsylvania County before moving on to represent the area in the House of Delegates and state Senate.

We want to take this opportunity to congratulate Hurt on his new appointment and to wish him well in the years ahead.

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