Literacy was important enough to draw almost 300 Tri-Citians and the state attorney general to the inaugural Read to Lead breakfast Friday morning at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
"We know not every child is growing up around books and growing up with parents who read to them," said Rob McKenna, attorney general. "That's why the Children's Reading Foundation is so important."
McKenna said that children not ready for first grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.
"Illiteracy in this country is a big problem, and unfortunately, it's not a problem that's getting smaller," McKenna said.
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"More than 30 million Americans simply cannot read, and more than 42 million read below the level to function successfully in a modern economy."
The event raised $36,000, with $22,000 coming from individual donations Friday morning. The additional $14,000 came from such sponsors as Sun Pacific Energy, Dade Moeller and Associates, Watts Construction, RBC Wealth Management, Kerr Law Group, Windermere Tri-Cities and Pacific Crest Planning.
Brian Ace, Children's Reading Foundation executive director, said the money raised Friday is enough to purchase almost 40,000 books.
During the breakfast, the Children's Reading Foundation honored Hank and Nancy Sauer of Kennewick with its inaugural Literacy Champion award.
Nancy Sauer is a retired reading specialist with the Kennewick School District who now volunteers as a Team Read tutor and trainer.
Her husband is a retired Kennewick teacher and administrator who perhaps is best known for reading The Polar Express to thousands of Mid-Columbians each holiday season.
After the breakfast, McKenna went to Hawthorne Elementary in Kennewick to read to a few dozen children. He read Woolbur and I Dream of an Elephant, then talked to the children about favorite books and answered questions.