Ralph Papitto, along with his wife Barbara, who run The Papitto Foundation, launched Read to Succeed in 2008 to help children who don’t have access to quality reading material at home get motivated to keep learning during the summer by providing, free to them, parents and schools, educator-selected summer reading books.
Students who complete the program and pass a comprehension test are awarded a $1,000 scholarship into Rhode Island’s 529 CollegeBound Fund.
So far, the Cranston-based nonprofit has awarded more than $70,000 in college scholarships to students at area schools. Some students could earn $6,000 in total toward their college tuition.
PBN: Was it easier or harder to garner student participation than you imagined after launching the program?
PAPITTO: The first year we launched the program we had a gathering for the students at each partner school to include many of their working parents. We displayed all the books that would be available to read that summer. On the other side of the room, we had a buffet of salads and sandwiches along with beverages and desserts. Every student entering the room ran right to the table of books, not the food! As the students perused all the selections, many asked if they could take the books home with them that afternoon! Their enthusiasm seemed to be unanimous. The success of so many students each summer is due to the combined efforts of the parents’ involvement, the support and the encouragement of the teachers and schools in the program, and I also believe a genuine excitement of the students and positive peer pressure.
PBN: How has a rounded literary education helped you and Barbara in your careers and lives?
PAPITTO: I was always interested in math and sciences and did not focus on reading as a child. Fortunately, I had a mother who loved literature and put a book in my hands every chance she could. She had a saying “I don’t care if you read the back of the ketchup bottle, just read!” She loved the classics and, from an early age, my mother had me reading interesting books that, along with my vivid imagination, took me anywhere I wanted to go. Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in accounting from Bryant University so I still followed the math avenue, but literacy is needed for every discipline studied.
PBN: What is your favorite summer reading book?
PAPITTO: I am finishing the “The Shroud Codex” by Jerome R. Corsi. It is an interesting novel about the Shroud of Turin and its authenticity. The next book I have loaded on my Kindle to read this summer is “Blood Brothers” by Elias Chacour and David Hazard, regarding the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. I mostly enjoy nonfiction or historical novels, however, in the summer, I like to do some lighter reading. My favorite author of fiction is Jeffrey Archer, mostly because I can never predict his endings.
PBN: Why does your program work better than required summer reading through schools?
PAPITTO: Because of the incentive of a $1,000 college scholarship each summer for a total of six summers, students are urged to read by their parents and teachers. We also require more books to be read by the students than is normally required by the schools. However, we do supplement the summer reading requirements at the schools by incorporating the school’s summer selection into the program.
PBN: Are you pleased with the public support you have received?
PAPITTO: This past year, when we made the awards, the father of a boy approached me from Bishop McVinney [Regional Elementary] School [in Providence] who has participated in the program from the beginning. The father, an immigrant from Liberia, stated how proud he was of his son and thanked me profusely for providing his son with this opportunity. He proceeded to tell me he had a daughter and wanted to know if she could participate in the program. It broke my heart to tell him that we are too small now to include all students in Read to Succeed, but that was our goal for the future. When we started this program, all the funds to support Read to Succeed were provided by our Papitto Foundation. We quickly realized that we wanted to grow Read to Succeed beyond our capacity to give. In the past few years, some of our dear friends, as well as businesses and foundations have become our partners with additional contributions. This year, a major gift from the Rhode Island Foundation has also helped us toward the goal of raising an additional $150,000 in philanthropy to fund scholarships for our 2012 program and for an expanded program next summer.