Readers are leaders

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For the fourth year in a row, the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation made the future of Jacksonville a little bit stronger.

The Jaguars Foundation, in association with First Book and Mayor John Peyton's early literacy initiative, RALLY Jacksonville!, held a press conference today at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium where Jaguars Foundation Chair and CEO Delores Barr Weaver announced that 130,000 new books will be distributed to children from low-income families.

"The Jaguars Foundation has a long-standing commitment to expand reading opportunities for low-income children," Weaver stated. "We hope that by bringing books into the homes of these children we will help them to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning. We appreciate our partners' support for this important effort."

The press conference was held in the stadium's West Club with dozens of four-year-olds in attendance from Wayman Early Learning Center and First New Zion Christian Academy. The children were entertained by Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith and placekicker Josh Scobee, several members of the ROAR cheerleaders and Jaxson de Ville.

The Jaguars Foundation partnered this year with numerous other foundations and several businesses to generate as many books as possible to help Jacksonville's children. This year, the Jaguars teamed with Scholastic Book Clubs, headed represented by Jodi Herschkowitz, to obtain the 130,000 new books.

In the past four years, the Jaguars Foundation there have been has helped to distribute 455,000 books distributed to the Jacksonville community. This has been a tremendous support to With the addition of Mayor Peyton's RALLY Jacksonville! Program and , the his city will exceed the Mayor's goal of giving one million new books distributed to Jacksonville's children by June.

"Corporate and community support for improving early literacy in Jacksonville has been inspiring, and today is another indication of the wonderful synergy that continues to develop around that effort," said Mayor Peyton.

"With this book give-away, we are close to reaching our goal to collect and distribute one million books through the RALLY Book Drive! I am grateful for the participation of the Jaguars Foundation and the other partners who are working together to put books into the hands of our city's children and families."

One of the many organizations in attendance to receive the new books in attendance was that of former tennis star MaliVai Washington, who runs his MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation. He watched as his truck was loaded with books that will directly impact youth at his organization.

"This is absolutely wonderful, from the mayor to the Weavers, the Jaguars Foundation, the DuBow'sDuBows and so many organizations involved in making all this happen," said Washington. "This is what the Mmayor has been talking about for years – getting books in the hands of the youth. What is the saying, that 'reading is fundamental'? That is so true. I think in some families and communities, it is not stressed enough and not stressed early enough. With the book distribution here, literally thousands of books are going to three and four and five-year-olds throughout Jacksonville."

Wendy Bhagat spoke on behalf of First Book, who has partnered with the Jaguars Foundation for the past four years with the book distribution.

"It's an exciting and fun experience," said Bhagat. "It's very rewarding to know that we are getting books to children across the Jacksonville area. We enjoy coming every year and we are looking forward to next year."

Under the leadership of Weaver, many local businesses, organizations, and individuals have contributed more than $980,000 to ensure the success of the project. These are the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation; Weaver Family Foundation; Jacksonville Children's Commission; the DuBow Family Foundation; Tom and Betty Petway; Sandy and Sharon McArthur, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund; The Community Foundation; Pepsi; Coggin Automotive Group; the James and Joan Van Vleck Advised Fund; Chartrand Family Charitable Trust, Gate Petroleum Company; Baptist Health; Winn Dixie; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, The St. Joe Company, Regency Centers; Wachovia Foundation; Lucy Gooding Charitable Foundation; United Way of Northeast Florida; CSX Transportation; Merrill Lynch; Helen Lane; David A. Stein Foundation; Emily Balz Smith Foundation; Gottlieb and Associates; John D. and Mary Jane Uible Foundation; Ottenstroer Charitable Trust; Scheidel Family Foundation; Selevan Family Foundation; Delores Pass Kessler Foundation; and the James H. Winston Charitable Foundation. Priority Courier in Jacksonville is providing in-kind warehouse space to assist with the storage, sorting, and distribution of books.

"It's an opportunity to make a difference in a child's life and that's certainly important," said Jaguars partner Laurie DuBow on the event's success. "It's all about the children and if we don't look after the children then our future really diminishes."

Washington summed up the event with an animated smile and one comment.

"I think of 15 years from now when these three and four-year-olds are going into college and what we are doing today is impacting them as they go into adulthood. That's when I get excited, when they see what kind of potential they really have."

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