New literacy fundraiser nets $154,000 for children’s books

A day-long children’s literacy telethon and radiothon marked the end of a month long campaign to raise $1 million to buy books for Utah’s elementary school children. The “Once Upon a Time” Utah Story Literacy Event brought hundreds of Utah school children to the Union Pacific building at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City yesterday to celebrate literacy, by meeting children’s literacy greats Clifford the Big Red Dog and SpongeBob SquarePants, hearing stories from other students and from profession storyteller, Julie Barnson (pictured at right).

The event yesterday raised $154,116 to purchase books. This can purchase more than 67,800 books for Utah schoolchildren! While the amount raised fell short of the $1 million goal, Rick Folkerson, Vice President of marketing with the Ken Garff auto group, said this was expected because the Utah Story Literacy Event is just in its first year.

Folkerson says the key to increasing reading proficiency in Utah is increasing access to books. He cites some sobering statistic:

  • Sixty-one percent of all low-income families have no books in their homes; 
  • Eleven percent of Utah’s population reads at or below a third-grade level;
  • Forty-seven percent of school-aged children in Utah are reading below grade level by the fourth grade;
  • $2 billion is spent nationally each year on students who repeat a grade because they don’t know how to read; and
  • Illiteracy costs businesses and taxpayers nationwide an estimated $20 billion each year.

“What we want to do is put more books in the hands of students. We know that there is a direct correlation between putting books in the hands of students and their ability to be more proficient readers. The more books they have, the greater readers they become,” Folkerson says.

The “Once Upon a Time” Utah Story Literacy fundraiser began March 1. Schools throughout the state participated in the event, each with a goal of raising $1,000 toward the overall $1 million goal. One group of sixth graders alone raised $2,200!  A donation of $50 can put 20 books in the hands of elementary school students.

The Ken Garff Road to Success program was launched in 2007, with more than 50 pilot schools and 50,000 students participating. Over the past four years it’s grown to more than 240 elementary schools and more than 165,000 participating students. Road to Success aims to enhance and enrich every child’s educational experience in Utah by encouraging students to read every day to increase vocabulary and communication skills. Students can earn prizes, like a new bike or gift certificates and school supplies, for reading or having their parents read to them every day. 

To learn more about the Utah Story Literacy fundraiser or to make a donation to purchase books for Utah’s elementary school students, visit And click here for more information about the Ken Garff Road to Success program. View more photos from the event on the Utah Public Education flickr photostream.

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2 comments to New literacy fundraiser nets $154,000 for children’s books

  • Even though they fell short of their goal the program is still a huge success and will still positively affect many young lives.

    • Elizabeth Ziegler

      Thank you for commenting! Indeed, it was a fantastic effort for the first year of this fundraiser. We can’t wait to see what will happen next year! And you are right to point out the positive impact this event will have. It raised enough money to purchase more than 67,800 books! That’s tremendous!