BANGOR, ME – (February 6, 2020) – Dirigo Reads, a program that aims to put a book in the hands of every Maine first grader each month during the school year by 2025, is looking to increase the number of schools that will participate in the program during the next school year. Dirigo Reads co-founders Dan and Karen Cashman of Brewer say that new schools are being solicited and considered for the 2020-2021 school year now.

“Dirigo Reads started as a pilot program during this school year, with six communities participating,” said Karen Cashman. “In order for the program to grow to cover all first graders in Maine public schools by 2025, it needs to grow incrementally between now and then. We’re looking to add around twenty schools for the 2020-2021 school year, and we’re asking any schools that are interested to reach out.”

Dirigo Reads’ mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of children in Maine through literacy and share a little optimism along the way. This is accomplished by giving first graders in participating schools a brand new book to keep during every month of the school year. The six communities involved in the pilot program this year – Brewer, Castine, Dover-Foxcroft, Machias, Madison, and Caribou – have collectively received more than 1,600 books through the first five months for their first grade students. By the time the school year is finished, first graders in each of these communities will have ten new books to add to – or start – their own home library.

“We have seen the joy in students’ faces in each of these communities when the books arrive each month,” said Dan Cashman. “Being able to spread that joy and opportunity further is exciting, but will take continued support – and new support – from community partners to make it happen.”

Dirigo Reads is operationally supported by United Way of Eastern Maine, and the founding Dirigo Star partner is Machias Savings Bank. 

“An investment in our children is a wise investment to make,” said Larry Barker, president and CEO of Machias Savings Bank. “We know that investing in literacy for Maine first graders is really an investment in opportunities for them to succeed. Dirigo Reads is fulfilling its mission in year one, and we’re excited to continue to be a part of the mission going forward as more towns and children are included in this wonderful program.”

Additional partners of Dirigo Reads include Cross Insurance, Bangor Savings Bank, United Way of Eastern Maine, Northern Light Health, Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications, and The First. 

“In addition to schools, we are looking for more community partners to help fund this effort,” said Dan Cashman. “The concept is to work with businesses and organizations to financially support the mission so it is not reliant upon donations from individuals or specific towns. There are a wide range of options to support Dirigo Reads, with nearly all funds being used to purchase books for first graders in Maine.”

There are about 12,000 first graders enrolled in Maine public schools, more than 300 of which contain first grade classrooms. Currently, Dirigo Reads is providing books to about 2% of this population. If twenty communities can be added, Dirigo Reads expects to serve about 10% of first graders in Maine for the 2020-2021 school year.

Schools and businesses interested in being a part of Dirigo Reads should visit www.DirigoReads.org and click on “Contact,” where a form is available to submit all necessary information.

“Dirigo Reads received a tremendous amount of support in its first year,” said Dan Cashman. “But in order for every first grader in Maine to receive a new book every month of the school year, we need to increase the number of partners involved.”

Any organizations interested in partnering with Dirigo Reads, or schools with first grade classes that would like to join the program can find more details at www.DirigoReads.org.