2019 Annual Report

You never know when a passion may spark an idea that is simple, yet a bit crazy and ambitious at the same time. I guess we would say that’s how it was when we started Dirigo Reads nearly two years ago. The premise was simple: Get books in the hands of first grade students—books they could love, call their own, and hopefully help encourage a lifelong love of reading. We also knew that so many kids, particularly in rural areas of Maine, do not have home libraries, let alone a single book or magazine to call their own. So, for this idea to work, we knew that what we did for one school, we wanted to eventually do for all—taking a small step closer to providing all kids with an equal chance of achieving literacy success and the promise of a bright future.

We decided to start small, inviting a pilot group of schools with a goal of having all public elementary schools in Maine on board by 2025. Come to find out, when you call schools and let them know you’d like to give their first graders books, there’s a chance you might be met with some skepticism—understandably so! It takes mutual trust to start a program, and we want to sincerely thank the six schools who opened their doors to us. Not only did these schools warmly welcome us but they have been fabulous collaborators, especially when the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic hit and students had to be sent home mid-year. These schools rallied to devise a plan to ensure none of their first graders went a month during the academic year without receiving a new Dirigo Reads book. So, from the bottom of our heart, we’d like to extend a huge thank you to our Dirigo Reads pioneer schools: The Adams School in Castine, Brewer Community School, Madison Elementary, Rose M. Gaffney Elementary School in Machias, SeDoMoCha in Dover-Foxcroft, and Teague Park Elementary in Caribou.

photo of dan and karen cashman presenting their program to first graders

Additionally, this program would still only be an ambitious idea if it wasn’t for the support, generosity, and commitment of our partners. We are exceptionally proud to have Machias Savings Bank as our Dirigo Star Founding Partner. Their early support and shared vision helped not only make this program a reality but secured the program’s viability for the future. It is also with the support of Bangor Savings Bank, Cross Insurance, The First National Bank, and Northern Light Health that we’ll be able to include twenty additional Maine schools this coming year—giving approximately 450 more first graders the everlasting gift of reading. And, to United Way of Eastern Maine and Sutherland Weston—companies who encouraged us from the start and helped lay the framework for what this program could be—thank you—you will forever be a part of the Dirigo Reads story.

We hope you enjoy this summary of the organization’s first year. Please take a moment to read the heartwarming comments from the administrators and teachers in our schools and know that this difference has been made possible just in one year because of your support. A difference that will hopefully continue for generations of Maine first graders to come. From the two of us—thank you.

Dan & Karen Cashman
– Co-Founders, Dirigo Reads