By David J. Bisset
Say the name Coach Frank Beamer and the first thing one thinks about is Virginia Tech football and the success the program has had since Beamer arrived on the Virginia Tech campus in 1987.
Under Beamer’s leadership, Virginia Tech has had many winning football seasons and many bowl game appearances. The team has also had both players and coaches honored for outstanding accomplishments.
Yet, beyond all the winning and accolades, there’s another side to Beamer that is far from the playing field. He has turned his attention to a cause that includes the importance of youngsters learning to enjoy reading.
Collectively, the Beamer family founded Herma’s Readers in 2008 to promote reading among young children. The foundation was named in honor of his mother, Herma Beamer, a lifelong educator with Virginia public schools.
Herma’s Readers has distributed over 21,000 new and gently used books. Many of these books have been collected at Virginia Tech sporting events and local businesses and doled out to youngsters throughout the Commonwealth.
Beamer’s program has also dispersed more than $80,000 for new book purchases for children in grades K-3. That brings a total of more than 53,000 books on behalf of Herma’s Readers.
Last Friday, many schools observed Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Beamer was invited to Cave Spring Elementary School in Roanoke County not only to read to the nearly 500 children that attend the school, but to accept over 1,700 books donated by the students in support of Herma’s Readers.
“The goal was 700 books,” said Will Krause, a fifth grade teacher at the school who directed the month-long book drive. ”The children kept bringing in more and more books and before we knew it, the goal had doubled. The latest count is 1,739 books.”
The record-breaking donations were boxed and displayed, pyramid style, in the school’s auditorium where Beamer read James Marshall’s Miss Nelson Has a Field Day to the students.
In the school hallway before entering the auditorium, Beamer said when he first read the book that he had a problem with it.
“You know I have a confession about this book. I began reading it and I got to what I thought was the last page and it just didn’t end right,” said Beamer. “I gave the book to my wife, Cheryl, and told her to read it. She did and she was puzzled, too,” said Beamer with a twinkle in his eye.
It wasn’t until Greg Roberts, a member of the Herma’s Reading board of directors, set Beamer straight.
“Greg read the book cover to cover and actually turned to the last page and read it. The last two pages were stuck together. That was when I knew the book had an ending,” said Beamer with a chuckle. “I’ve got to tell my wife that there is an ending. We had been talking about this book and just couldn’t figure it out.”
“The joke’s on me,” he added as fifth grade teachers listened as he spun his tale about the book.
After reading to the children, Beamer thanked the audience, who sat on the auditorium floor and never moved a muscle as he read to them.
“I want to thank the children for participating in this program,” said Beamer. “I started Herma’s Readers to recognize my mother, who was a teacher for over 30 years. She was into reading. She told me reading can open doors for you throughout your lifetime. I want to share that with youngsters. I want them to learn to read and from that ability they can become a success when they are adults. I know my mother is probably looking down at us and is happy knowing what you all have done. I can’t believe that so many books could be turned in by just one school,” said Beamer.
Coming to read on Read Across America Day was not only a thrill for the students and teachers, but it was a time for Beamer to announce that Herma’s Readers has now joined forces with First Book, a national non-profit that distributes books to kids in need.
“The research is there, and it’s clear,” said Beamer. “If we get students passionate about reading at a young age, it benefits everyone. Research shows that children who are actively reading by the third grade are more likely to be on the right track to graduate.”
First Book is connected to a national network of 27,000 schools and local programs working with children from low-income families. First Book works closely with almost every major publisher to ensure that these schools and programs have an on-going supply of new books for the children they serve.
“We are thrilled to work with Coach Beamer to get more new books into the hands of Virginia kids,” said Kyle Zimmer, president of First Book in a press release. “Teachers like Herma Beamer spend their lives doing everything they can to make a difference in the lives of kids, and our mission is to get them the books and resources they need to do their jobs.”
First Book has distributed more than 90 million books and educational resources to program and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada.
Beamer announced that he has personally donated an additional $50,000 to The First Book Program.
“I’ve really had a good time here today,” said Beamer during his hour-long visit. “Again, I want to thank the children for participating in Herma’s Readers. It has been my pleasure to visit a school with such polite and well-behaved students. The teachers and children should be recognized for that accomplishment. It speaks loudly,” he said.