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Festival sparks interest in reading

Felicia Finney reads to children at the festival.
Felicia Finney reads to children at the festival.

More than 20 children of all ages and their parents celebrated literacy during a May reading festival at Wesley United Methodist Church in Aiken, S.C.

"Reading is the heartbeat of education," said Toni Strawther, coordinator of the event sponsored by Wesley's United Methodist Women. "Many children have fallen behind in their reading skills before the third grade. We wanted to encourage parents to read to their children and also spark an interest in the children to read" by stressing the importance of reading on a daily basis.

According to ProLiteracy (, 30 million Americans cannot read beyond the fifth-grade level.

Strawther believes that students who can't read on grade level by third grade may have a hard time graduating from high school, especially when they are also affected by poverty. The ability to read affects students' success in nearly all subject areas, she said.

During the Saturday festival, the children boarded the "Reading Train" to travel to different rooms to hear reading by local celebrities, watch a live puppet show and make bookmarks.

The children also took home free books, which were were donated by St. John's United Methodist Church in Aiken and Lisa Raiford, a member of Wesley who is also the county school district's Teacher of the Year.

"It's important that the faith community take an active role in promoting literacy," said the Rev. Walter Strawther, Wesley's pastor and Toni's husband. "I hope that families will make reading a fun time in a child's life in an effort to help the child become a successful learner.

"We hope to continue this every year and have more people attend the reading festival."

Christine Kumar is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.

AT A GLANCE: Wesley United Methodist Church | 220 Fairfield St. NE, Aiken, SC 29801 | 803-642-5282 | | Rev. Walter Strawther | Average Attendance: 40 | South Carolina Conference

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