Board Member Testimonials

Cynthia HylandThank you to the sponsors & participants of the 2019 Readers Are Readers Golf Tournament

Thank you Readers Are Leaders Golf Classic Participants!

I first became exposed to Readers Are Leaders as the parent of a South Lakes freshman basketball player.  My son Mark, who was not normally one to volunteer for community service, immediately embraced his elementary school reading partner, and theirs was a relationship that he truly enjoyed.  Mark was a strong student, however, as I developed relationships with some of his less studious teammates, one thing that impressed me about RAL was how much pride and gratification all of the players seemed to get from volunteering in this way.  It gave all of the athletes the chance to feel the pride of academic leaders.  It also gave them all the chance to participate in community service that was enduring and meaningful.

I was one of those busy, frazzled parents.  I was not terribly concerned about college application preparation.  When that time came, I was pleasantly surprised to realize the RAL volunteering provided Mark with some really meaningful volunteer experience, as those applications asked about the nature and duration of the volunteer activity.  When I was first exposed to RAL, I assumed the ones benefitting the most were the struggling elementary school readers.  But I soon realized that the athletes benefitted as much, if not more.

I have spent decades participating as a volunteer, donor and board member of numerous non-profit organizations.  I became a RAL Board member because I truly respect and embrace what Wendell has established, and I want it to endure.  When you contribute to RAL, your donation truly goes far, not only because Wendell and the participating coaches give significant time and energy, but because almost all of the efforts into making the organization work are volunteer athlete hours.  As a result, thousands of elementary students benefit yearly, not only through cherished reading time with athletes they look up to, but also as recipients of age appropriate books selected especially for them.

Congratulations to Wendell and the RAL team for another successful year, and thank you for your support!


Stephen VerebLetter of introduction to other board members


Coach Wendell asked me to introduce myself. I’ve struggled with where to begin and what to say, so I’ve finally settled on the beginning. My name is Stephen Vereb. I am from Erie, Pennsylvania, product of a single mom, that had me at age 20. She worked a good deal of second shift building locomotives in a factory for General Electric. If I look at the “gain” in life, instead of the “gap,” I would say we were “Inner City, Upper, Lower Class.” I was a Latch Key kid, and after kindergarten I would race straight home, lock the door behind me and turn on Sesame Street, followed by Mister Rodgers Neighborhood and The Electric Company and get lost in a world of letters, numbers and nice people that cared about helping kids learn how to read, how to learn, and how to be in awe of the world that had endless possibilities. I recently watched a documentary about the creation of Sesame Street, highly recommend by the way, and I learned it was a program intentionally created for “Inner City, Upper, Lower Class, Latch Key kids” just like me, with the intent to help single parent kids or kids who did not have parents or adults at home that could help them to practice their reading and build fundamentals. It made me into who I am today, and for one simple reason….it gave me the gift of being able to read. I love Sesame Street.

Because of that gift, I showed up to 1st grade with solid reading fundamentals, and for the first time in my young life, I saw the division of kids. We were separated based on our reading skills. Above average readers got pink chairs, average readers got light blue chairs, and the below average readers received green chairs. When “reading time” came, you went with your group and read with them and the teacher. It wasn’t long before all the kids understood what the color of the chairs signified, and even though I did not realize it at the time, those chairs had a pretty significant role in predicting the future of each child. When we got to high school, the separation was still pretty much the same, but instead of assigning us colored chairs, the pink chaired above average readers seemed to all be in the Honors and Advanced Placement classes, the average blue chaired readers in Regulars classes, and the below average readers were in the basic classes or possibly the regular classes.

Why do we think that is?

Surely there are multiple possibilities, but my personal thought is that it may have had a great deal to do with where they started … behind in the race, not only because their reading level was not up to the benchmark it needed to be to continue to compete, but because of how it impacted their self-esteem. Reading is critical to early self-esteem, development and confidence, and so is having a positive mentor in your life to find the “gains” in us instead of focusing on the “gaps.” Without a mentor to be our inspiration and guiding light, we are left to that low self-esteem that tells us that we are not meeting the benchmark.

When I met Coach Wendell Byrd many years ago on an early morning at the YMCA, he had an immediate impact on me. He reminded me of all of my favorite coaches and people, all rolled into one person. He is pure positivity, warmth, like the sun. You want to be in his orbit in hopes that his sunlight will brighten you up. It is almost impossible not to be positive around him. To put it bluntly, the man is an amazing human, and ever since that day, I have grown to love him. We’ve been friends for years now, and my business partner, Henry and I, always make it a point to participate in the Annual Readers Are Leaders Golf Tournament. We love the cause and the people who show up each year to support it.

A couple of months ago, Coach Byrd asked me to join the Advisory Board for Readers Are Leaders. I am so honored and so humbled by his invitation. I am honestly not sure what I bring to the table from a skill set perspective, but I am excited to find out how I may serve this cause that hits so close to home. Coach has told me his dream would be to see Readers Are Leaders expand across the country, and I am excited to see how as a community, we can make that happen. I ask you all to join me in the crusade to build self-esteem in our young ones by way of reading, to build self-esteem in our high school athletes who give back and learn how to lead by example, and to encourage our communities to support such an amazing cause.

I love Sesame Street and now I love Readers Are Leaders.

Humbly yours,

Tom ArchibaldThank you to the sponsors & participants of the 2021 Readers Are Readers Golf Tournament

It was 2007, we had both recently retired from teaching, and Wendell decided that I needed something to keep me busy. Brother Byrd, who I had known since 1980, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to join the Readers Are Leaders team. Wendell kept me busy with writing annual reports, applying for grants, putting together PowerPoints, early morning breakfast meetings at Panera, photographing mentoring sessions all over Northern Virginia, and handing out juice boxes and Chick-fil-A biscuits at golf tournaments. But what I have enjoyed most about working with Readers Are Leaders is visiting the mentoring sessions. Without you, these session don’t happen. Let me take you for a quick visit.

Whether it is an elementary school’s cafeteria, library, or classroom, there is electricity in the air on mentoring days – a palpable buzz as kids roll in to meet with their “buddies” from the high school. Teachers often tell me that the RAL kids are pumped-up all day in anticipation. When the high school student-athletes arrive, there are warm greetings – high-fives, fist-bumps, hugs, a shy smile – the buddies haven’t seen each other in a week. Students spread out across the room as partners pair-up and sit down together, chat a bit, and then begin their work on a book or activity. The room is filled with energy – some of this energy is quiet but intense: deep concentration, whispered questions and comments. In other pairs, the energy bubbles with excitement: the wonder of the book dominates – wide-eyes, anticipation, what-if’s, disbelief, questions, laughter, discussions. In other pairs, the challenge of reading words dominates – there is hard work and you can see the struggle, effort, coaching; the difficulties, discoveries, successes, and celebrations; growing confidence in young eyes and pride in the eyes of the high school students.

The conversation isn’t always about books or reading – sometimes they talk about sports, and sometimes the kids need to talk about an issue, something that’s bothering them, talk to someone who has become like a big brother or sister, someone they can trust, someone who’s going to encourage them and maybe help them sort it out. The sessions go by quickly. By the end of the session, you can also see the delight of students receiving a new book, books that they are able to read, books that awaken an interest or inspire, books that they can call their own – for many of these students, the only books found in the home.

This is just a glimpse of what you have helped to create. You can get a better sense of what your support does by going on our website and viewing the Gallery tab to see photos of mentoring sessions, or checking the Testimonials tab to see some of the comments from students, teachers, coaches, parents, etc.

Wendell Byrd has created a model that works. It depends on the commitment and effort of many people determined to give struggling kids a helping hand and, by doing so, make our communities stronger and better places to live and grow up. We are proud to have you on our team and thankful for your support – we appreciate your investment of time and money in participating in our golf tournament.

In the 14 years that I have been involved with Readers Are Leaders, I have seen magical things happen to the kids in our program. But none of it happens without the support of committed people like you who have stepped forward. Please join us again next year. Tell family, friends, co-workers and others in your network about Readers Are Leaders - have them check out our website. With your continued support and the support of others, we can continue to reach out to more struggling students, help them find a positive path, develop their potential, and make contributions. We rise by helping to lift others.

Thank you.

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