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Poise and Heart to Spare

Amy Friedman fights for literacy on its own turf

In the downtown of any city, town or village, on a typical Tuesday, there’s a whole lot of traffic. It’s not merely vehicle traffic. It’s the foot traffic. People off to work and to school and to shop and to eat. Everyone is busy. The world is busy. Every single day. With so many people juggling hectic schedules just to get by, rising early, feeding their kids, suiting up for work, plodding through another day at the office, weaving through the hordes of people just to get home, feeding their kids, suiting up for bed, and finally catching some z’s just to get up and do it all again, it’s not easy to find time to follow our passions. So many of those passions end up taking a back burner. In short, life, as it is known anecdotally to do, always intervenes. Amy Friedman has found her passion, and she figured out a way to fulfill it. She is smiling, beautiful, dimpled and kind. She used to be a big wheel in Denver Public Schools, working at the Chief of Staff to the Superintendent, but these days she’s taken her focus on education and refined it for one of the most deserving populations.

We meet Amy at Crawford Elementary School. It’s at the corner of East 17th Avenue and Florence Street in Aurora. Crawford Elementary is a beautiful school. The staff and teachers are wonderful. And its students are bright-eyed, smiling and delightful. Still, this isn’t a part of town accustomed to luxury and excess. What’s more, luxury and excess, in Denver’s and the nation’s poorest neighborhoods, includes books, especially books for children, for whom reading is newest and literacy is most important. Amy Friedman’s mission is to help the kids at Crawford and children enrolled in schools like it. It’s her passion.

Passion and professionalism

Amy’s the Executive Director of Book Trust, an organization that empowers students at Crawford and other schools to choose, own and read books. But, this isn’t just a matter of dropping off books and hoping for the best. Amy Friedman has the stats to back up her efforts and the efforts of Book Trust. She’ll fire off data like it’s second nature. She speaks intelligently, but passionately about how children who simply grow up with books around have an increased chance at literacy, whether their parents are involved in reading directly or not. And then she drops the bomb that there is only 1 book to every 300 people in this Aurora neighborhood. While she shares that fact, her eyes give away something her poise will not. The thought of a child never reading, and everything else that will be neglected due to illiteracy, really pains her.

At the heart of it

But it also brings her incredible joy. After we spoke with Amy for the first time, we followed her into a classroom (Liz Soltys’ 2nd Grade). You can tell right away that Amy is excited to talk to the kids. She’s nervous, perhaps only because she wants to impress them. And when Amy Friedman sits down to tell the kids about Book Trust, her face lights up. But the biggest moment is when Amy asks the class, a group of second graders, how many of them know what they want to be when they grow up. They all raise their hands. And then, she asks them how many of them want to go to college. And they all raise their hands. It’s beautiful. So, when Amy helps pass out the books, and the kids faces light up bright, and they’re so excited to read to us, you can see first hand what Amy’s hopes and dreams are. When you sit with an 8 year old who is so excited to read, to prove that she can and for the joy of it; that’s the moment, right there. As Amy Friedman fights to get kids excited about reading, and to put books in their eager hands, she’s also working to put everyone on the same page. And really, Amy would be happy to see everyone on the same sentence. Even the same word.