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THRIVE Participant Perspective--Reading without Borders

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Each Friday, we'll bring you the perspective of a nonprofit in our THRIVE accelerator program and share a little about their organization.

Reading without Borders

This second session of THRIVE, facilitated by our partners at The Spark Mill, was a finalization of Mission, Vision, and Values with teams and their mentors. We asked the team from Reading without Borders to tell us about their experience this week.

What are you hoping to get out of this program?

Joe Heinzen, Executive Director: We're looking forward to THRIVE helping us to take that next step--in creating books that help all children see themselves in the stories they're reading, expanding our reach, fundraising, and creating exciting narratives around the work we're doing. We aspire to inspire and THRIVE is helping us to do that in the most strategic and efficient way possible.

We want to achieve an amplification through this process that helps us reach as many schools, kids, and homes as possible. We want to help to create the next generation of problem solvers, analytical thinkers, disease fighters, kids curing cancer, winning chess championships--and aspiring to achieve whatever their heart might dream up. Dreaming wild and dreaming big happens through a connection with a book and all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read.

Diana Kessler, Social Media Intern/Digital Storyteller: We're creating the opportunity for kids to see themselves not just doing things, but doing everything.

Tell us about your experience in the program this week.

Joe: On Mission/Vision/Values--we went through a period of refinement and now we get to expand and go into the inner workings of what's necessary to achieve them. The team came up with an amazing mission statement, which is still being refined: Producing books that reflect the world children live, learn, and believe in.

Every organization has phases. We’re in phase one. [The cohort is] helping us think through what those phases are. One influence is the state of the world around us right now. What are things we’d normally be doing in a pandemic--can we turn that virtual? We’re being more grounded as a result of talking about this at a micro level as a team and with others in the cohort.

What did you learn, or feel spoke to you, about this week's session?

Diana: What helped us today were the questions [Facilitator Chris Bennett] was giving us: What is our concrete impact? What is our tangible outcome? We are fostering relationships between children that need this inspiration.

Tycely Williams, Board Member: Ann Mei Chang’s framework was very helpful. We often hear the words value, impact, and growth—but pairing actual questions helps to crystalize the concepts. Is there demand? Does it work? Will it scale?

How do you see this applying to your organization?

Elizabeth Polak, Grant Writer: The focus on connection to our mission. We touched on this: foster and strengthen connections for children across different populations. The structure that THRIVE is offering is really helpful in our discussions.

Adanna Carter, Social Media Intern/Digital Storyteller: I hope we can raise brand awareness naturally by letting the world know that inclusive books are lacking. And, that this is a problem that needs to be solved, but more importantly, that we can solve it ... it just has to be together.

Tycely: As a result of today’s rich conversations, we are revisiting how to concisely express our mission through the lens of impact. We also now better understand how impact, value, and growth contribute to social innovation.


Reading without Borders creates and sponsors high-quality books representing diverse characters, voices, and life circumstances and makes them available to educators and families supporting kids everywhere.

Diverse characters are scarce in kids' books. In a survey* of 3,700 titles published in 2017:

  • 9.2% were about African-Americans

  • 8.3% were about Asian-Pacific Americans

  • 5.8% were about Latinos

  • 1.9% were about American Indians​

*Source: Cooperative Children's Book Center, 2018

The THRIVE accelerator program provides an opportunity to look beyond the current challenges and obstacles and plan out a direct and streamlined path forward. Organizations will spend concentrated time planning and executing real-time solutions with guided facilitation.

The second cohort focuses on helping organizations engage leading practices in program design, community engagement, board development, fundraising, storytelling, and HR/operations with a racial equity lens. This experience creates a set time for teams of boards and staff to come together to look at their organization holistically and then apply what they are learning to their specific context.

THRIVE was created through collaboration between The Collaboratory of Virginia and The Spark Mill, and is currently sponsored by Carmax, Robins Foundation, and Virginia Community Capital.

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