You’re never done learning: With every step we’ve taken, we’ve learned new skills. When you’re a grassroots nonprofit like us, you don’t have the budget to hire things out. That means you have to learn how to do it yourself. Whether it’s been coding, video editing, or grant writing, we’re constantly learning and adapting to new circumstances.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin, Alana, Jacob, Julia, Reuben, and Carol Blumenstein.
KidsRead2Kids is a Parents’ Choice award-winning nonprofit dedicated to bringing the joy back to the struggling reader. KidsRead2Kids was founded in 2016 by dyslexic and ADHD siblings, based off of their own experiences. We provide free online resources for remote learning for teachers, parents and kids worldwide. To encourage a love of reading, KidsRead2Kids provides free video-audiobooks of abridged classic novels and simple decodable chapter books read by high school students and filmed chapter by chapter for self-paced listening. We provide multifaceted resources to help children find a love of reading, regardless of how they learn. We believe children are capable of anything, and we hope to help them see a world with endless possibilities. By sharing our story, we aim to show all children that they are not alone in their struggles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Thank you so much for having us! And absolutely! We were raised in a very open-minded and creative household grounded in traditional roots. Our parents always taught us to see endless possibilities and to question everything; we’ve always been very invested in education, formal and informal. Growing up, our mother would plan these crazy activities, everything from cooking classes and farm camp to trapeze school and trips to every museum within a 200 mile radius. We didn’t realize it at the time, but through every one of those activities we were learning real, applicable skills in an active and hands-on way. Those experiences, and the commitment to education behind them, are what drive us to take an active role in our learning. We know how much fun learning can be, and we want to share that with the world.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
We founded KidsRead2Kids to provide resources and support to kids who learn differently, and to show them that they’re not alone and their futures are filled with endless possibilities. We want kids to know that learning differently isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t make you stupid, it makes you special. We all have our own set of strengths and weaknesses, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
When you’re struggling in school, it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one. We’d like to see a world that encourages children to believe in themselves and their dreams; there are so many gifts you have just from being you.
There shouldn’t be any shame in needing accommodations and getting them. It’s about the spread of equity throughout our education system. When someone needs glasses or a hearing aid to allow them to do their best work, we give it to them and we don’t think twice about it. That same allowance should be given to academic and developmental accommodations. Accommodations level the playing field; they allow students with learning disabilities to learn with their full potentials.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Jacob: When I was growing up, I struggled in school and didn’t know why. While my classmates were learning to read, I was flipping to the end of the book and pretend that I read it. I felt stupid and alone, and my self-esteem fell because of it. In fourth grade I was diagnosed with dyslexia, and it felt like the end of the world. I felt ashamed. Even though my struggles finally made sense, I had never felt so hopeless.
In sixth grade, I switched to a school with better resources and it opened my eyes to a world of possibilities. I stopped viewing Dyslexia as a disability and started seeing it as a learning difference. With proper support and the use of technology, I could finally learn. But I never forgot what it felt like feels like to struggle.
Alana: Each one of us has had experiences of feeling hopeless and alone, whether due to mental health struggles, learning differences or something else entirely. When you have an experience like that, you can’t help but feel deeply passionate about it. Thanks to our parents, we were able to keep our love of stories intact. We wanted to share that love with the world, and show kids that they’re capable of anything.
Reuben: As a child, I struggled to sit still and pay attention in school. I couldn’t understand why something simple for my classmates was so hard for me. Unknowing of my struggle, my teachers called me lazy. I believed them. I don’t want anyone else to have to feel how I felt.
Benjamin: I love learning, but I’ve always done it my own way. I didn’t get my diagnosis, ADHD and underdeveloped executive function among other things, until I was in my junior year of high school. I was twenty before I developed coping methods that worked for me, and that resulted in my having to relearn a number of things. To this day using my accommodations are third nature, and I have a strong tendency to feel embarrassed. With everything I learn, I grow and change, and I so deeply want to help create a world in which every child has the confidence and resources to achieve their full potential.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Alana: When I was 16, I completed in a Shark Tank styled competition, where I formed a real business plan and strategy for KidsRead2Kids. I presented to a table of 3 judges against 20 other teens, and I won. That experience awarded me the $250 dollars in seed money that we used to start the organization. When the judges heard my idea, I was surprised to see how much they liked it. That opportunity gave me the confidence to believe in myself and my abilities as a teenage changemaker.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Alana: We looked back to our childhood and asked ourselves two questions: what worked for us, and what did we wish we had as children? One thing that always worked for us was listening to stories. When we were growing up, our parents used to read us stories every night. One of our all-time favorites was Anne of Green Gables. We loved it so much that our dad read us nearly the entire series!
Jacob: But, one thing we wished we had was more role models like us.
Alana: So, from there, we decided to share video-audiobooks of abridged classic novels read by high school volunteers.
We had no idea how much work running a nonprofit would be! Maybe that was a good thing. We just jumped into the deep end and never looked back.
Four years later, we can’t believe how many new skills we had to learn on our own. We mastered website design, email campaigns, filming, editing, music composition, copywriting, interviewing, Logo design, marketing, speech writing. Days turned to weeks, months turned to years. We started out knowing nothing and now we are running an international nonprofit.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
When the pandemic hit in March, the world as we knew it came to a crashing halt. Schools and libraries were closed, and teachers were forced to teach online, something many had never done before. Children no longer had playdates, birthday parties or social gatherings. Loneliness and isolation became the norm.
We asked ourselves how we could help. Our video/audio books were already online accessible and free to use, but we knew that teachers needed lesson plans. So we developed free lesson plans to correspond chapter by chapter with two of our books, Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables. Our lessons included active listening questions, creative writing prompts and vocabulary games. They were creative, fun and imaginative. Both teachers and kids loved them! Soon we were getting emails from across the world wanting more! People were turning to us. Parents were so happy that their kids were excited to read and learn. Soon kids who didn’t want to read, couldn’t stop listening. We were opening a new world of literature to a new generation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Benjamin: This past December we came up with the idea of putting on a free COVID-safe community Bear Hunt over the holiday. We knew that we wanted it to be outdoors, fun, and educational, and we committed to launching the program on December 18th. Unfortunately, it was already December 13th. Over the next five days we realized just how much work it is to launch a cohesive, self-running program, in the middle of the holiday season during a pandemic. Nonetheless, we buckled down and arranged eleven local business partnership, created a map, clues, a cypher, and promotional materials, and distributed everything in Birmingham, Michigan. We even created a special certificate and a coupon book that kids could earn by finding all of the clues!
For the better part of a week, our house was full to the brim with frantic energy, material creation, and constant, constant work. At the end of it all the program was a success and people had a great time. The Birmingham 8 Theater even put us up on the marquee!
We learned the hard way how much work building a new program is, regardless of how many ideas you have. Now we do our best to give ourselves enough time to finish what we plan. It doesn’t always work, and we can still be overly ambitious at times, but we’ll never do a five day crunch again!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Our parents have helped us every step of the way. They allowed us to be brave and try something new. They taught us to not be afraid to fail. We often learn the most from our failures and they ultimately lead us to our successes.
We have been so fortunate to have so many industry experts and teachers help and encourage us every step of the way like Amanda Morin from Understood, Sarah Sanyo from the National Center on Improving Literacy, Sonja Banks from the International Dyslexia Association, Marion Waldman from Teach My Kid to Read, and Carrie Fines from Bloomfield Hills High School. They believed in us and we are so grateful.
Our relationships are what ultimately led to the pilot of our KidsRead2Kids Book Club in Fall 2020 in the Bloomfield Hills School District. Working directly with Carrie, the Special Education Teacher Consultant and the KidsRead2Kids Book Club sponsor, helped us navigate the district and provides incredible support. We couldn’t do what we do without our cheerleaders.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We received a letter from Pamela Brookes, author of DOG ON A LOG Decodable Books. She wrote “I’ve been wanting my daughter with dyslexia to ‘read’ Anne of Green Gables. I have tried so hard to get her on audible books and she has resisted. She kept refusing. I was so glad to be contacted by you all as I think videos of kids’ reading to kids is a brilliant idea. I told her we would watch the YouTube video of Anne of Green Gables together. The second day we listened to two more chapters. She didn’t want to stop. We got through Chapter 6 that day. The next day we started with Chapter 7. By Chapter 16 I needed a break. She took my phone and finished listening to the rest of the book. I am just so thrilled. Thank you so much for providing this amazing service. We will watch more books together. I think seeing the videos makes a big difference.”
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Providing access to audiobooks and simple decodable books for children with learning disabilities. Early intervention is crucial to helping kids overcome their learning challenges and reach their full potential.
- Funding special education resources in all schools- both in the classroom and at home. Parents of kids with learning disabilities spend a disproportionate amount of time learning how to advocate for their child to the fullest extent of the law. Many schools don’t have resources in place, and in many that do parents need to know what to ask for.
- Changing the narrative around the use of accommodations. There is no shame in learning differently, or using what you need to level the playing field. In the same way many of us need glasses or contacts to see, so many kids need accommodations to learn.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Believe in yourself: To achieve our goals, we needed more than a strong work ethic. We needed confidence in ourselves and ideas. When you’re starting a business, whether nonprofit or commercial, it’s essential to believe in yourself and your capabilities. Trust your gut!
- Document everything: Keep a folder of everything you buy, every contact you meet, every project you design. Keep all of your files labeled and organized.
Reuben: Designing the logo and art work, I went through multiple drafts, none of which I named. I didn’t name the layers either. It was a nightmare organizing them after the fact.
- Make friends in the industry: So many of our greatest accomplishments happened by working with others. Over the years, we have been lucky to meet and partner with organizations, educators, and speakers with similar goals. Not only have we learned from them, but we’ve also been able to accomplish much more as a team than we could alone.
- Things take longer than you think they will: Creating things take time, no matter what project you’re working on. That’s a lesson we learned the hard way. Give yourself plenty of time when starting something new. Even if it seems easy to accomplish, you never know when an unforeseen obstacle will get in your path.
- You’re never done learning: With every step we’ve taken, we’ve learned new skills. When you’re a grassroots nonprofit like us, you don’t have the budget to hire things out. That means you have to learn how to do it yourself. Whether it’s been coding, video editing, or grant writing, we’re constantly learning and adapting to new circumstances.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Even the smallest act of kindness can make a difference in someone’s life. If we commit to making the world slightly better with each thing we do, if we try to leave each thing we come across just a little bit better than we found it, then those small acts can make waves. Who we are as people is the sum of all of our actions; the positivity you bring to the world, however big or small, matters.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 😊
If we could share a meal with anyone, it would have to be this trio: Anthony Salcito, The VP of Worldwide Education at Microsoft; Kristen Bell, who we all want to be friends with; and of course, our favorite furry friend Elmo. The work that Anthony does is so inspirational and touches so many lives. We would love the opportunity to pick his brain! Kristen Bell is an author, a true lifelong learner, and a staunch supporter of parents and teachers. She seems so kind and generous, and we’d love to learn from her. Finally, Elmo the Monster, who has taught so many, so much. We think it would be a very interesting meal!
How can our readers follow you online?
Facebook Book Club: KidsRead2Kids Book Club
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!