After retiring, Kermit served as a volunteer teacher’s aide at Richard Byrd Academy in Chicago’s Cabrini Green area with W.I.T.S. (Working In The Schools). He observed that the at-risk children in the public school to which he was assigned were typically reading below grade level and had no interest in reading for recreation. He concluded there was no history of “fun” reading at home, and the way to stimulate that reading was to:
1. Provide a lending library in each classroom, with no penalty for lost or damaged books.
2. Include the parents/caregivers in at-home reading by requesting they spend time each night reading with their children, with all electronics turned off.
He further concluded there are thousands of surplus children’s books among families where reading is encouraged by parents. Accordingly, book drives involving local community organizations and schools are used to collect books.
The program was successfully pilot tested in 3 Cabrini area schools for 3 years. Expansion into more schools began in 2003.
Year Opened / Total Schools Served
1999 / 1
2000 / 1
2001 / 3
2002 / 4
2004 / 23
2005 / 50
2006 / 82
2007 / 120
2008 / 156
2009 / 181
2010 / 191
2011 / 203
The growth of the organization was originally funded entirely by its Board. Currently successful, active fund-raising takes place among corporations, foundations, and individuals.