Former First Lady Barbara Bush used to read A.A. Milne’s "Winnie-the-Pooh" books to her daughter Doro. Later, Doro grew to love books like Daphne Du Maurier’s "Rebecca."
Now living in Bethesda with her husband Bobby Koch and their four children, Doro Bush Koch knows that many people never have the blessing of learning to read in a family environment, and a significant number of Americans reach adulthood unable to read. In Maryland, 20 percent of adults lack basic literacy skills, usually defined by not being able to read above a third grade level.
"There are a lot of people who hide the fact that they can’t read," Koch said. "It’s sort of a shameful secret people keep."
But she’s also seen formerly illiterate people overcome their secret inability. She visited a Baltimore nonprofit that taught reading skills to single mothers who were also overcoming addictions to drugs.
THREE YEARS AGO, Koch founded a Maryland chapter of her mother’s nonprofit, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The national parent organization is now 17 years old. Koch, who grew up in Washington, D.C. and attended National Cathedral School, wanted to focus on the area she considers home.
The Maryland Celebration of Reading is the initiative’s third annual fundraiser, and for the second straight year, it will be at Strathmore Hall. Previous Celebrations of Reading featured Cal Ripken, Jr., Carol Higgins Clark and the late Hugh Sidey of Potomac.
On board for this year are Ronan Tynan, Irish Tenor, author of "Halfway Home: My Life ‘til Now"; Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek, author of "Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship; Antwone Fisher author of "Finding Fish"; and David Baldacci, author of "Absolute Power" and "The Camel Club."
Doro Bush Koch emcees the event in which each of the authors read from their own work, part of a produced show. Koch’s aim is to make the event lively and engrossing, and an experience different from a typical Washington dinner fundraiser. The venue at Strathmore helps create the different feel of the event.
Individual tickets include the program and a buffet dinner. Each guest goes home with a book by one of the featured authors. Koch invites many local teachers to the event, as well as those who exemplify the foundation’s mission of ending the cycle of illiteracy.
"We have a student reader come, someone who’s benefited from the grants that we give," Koch said.
Koch’s husband Bobby Koch, president of the Wine Institute of San Francisco, donates wine to the event. All proceeds from the event go to family literacy programs in Maryland.
The Barbara Bush Foundation awards $50,000 grants to literacy programs, stressing the family aspect, both adults and children.
"If we don’t, we won’t be able to break the cycle of illiteracy," Koch said. "We really believe that the parent is the first teacher and the home is a child’s first school."
Local organizations that received grants last year include the Family Services Agency in Gaithersburg, the Mental Health Association of Montgomery County in Rockville, Windows to the World in Kensington and Crossway Community Family Leadership School in Kensington.