Lyons Reading Fund donates more than 400 books to Dowagiac Middle School students

DOWAGIAC — Thanks to the donation of a local family, Dowagiac Middle School students will be able to travel this summer to lands far away, take part in epic adventures and fight alongside heroes — all through the power of reading.

Last week, The Lyons Family and Michigan Gateway Community Foundation donated more than 400 books to Dowagiac Middle School students through the Lyons Reading Fund. According to those involved, the donation is meant to promote literacy and help prevent summer reading loss.

“This is a really great program,” said Michael Rowland, President and CEO of Michigan Gateway Community Foundation. “A lot of these students have been virtual this year. They have been sitting in front of screens a lot, so getting a physical book for the summer was kind of a magical moment for them and gave them some hope for the future.”

The Lyons Reading Fund was started in January 2021 by the Lyons family through the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation to aid Dowagiac Union Schools with its goal of improving literacy for students of all grade levels. Lyons family member Shannon Lyons said that by partnering with Gateway, the family identified middle school students as a particular need for reading assistance.

“In talking with Gateway and the schools, we realized it wasn’t grade-school that needed this most. It was middle schoolers because that is when kids decided to become readers or not,” Lyons said. “There are a lot of resources for grade school students to get books from, but that all falls off in middle school.”

“An often forgotten part of literacy is that time between elementary and high school,” Rowland added.

English teachers at Dowagiac Middle School worked with students to make a list of 46 books students could choose from that bridge into next year’s curriculum for students to read during their summer break to help bridge the summer reading gap.

“This is a huge benefit for our students because it allows them to have actual printed books in their hands, and to have that interaction with your reading material is something you can’t replace,” said Dowagiac Middle School Principal Sean Wightman. “The Lyons family has been so generous, and we are blessed that we could provide our students with that this year. I know the kids are excited and happy. They were smiling, each and every one of them, when they got their book. I can’t thank [the Lyons] enough.”

Both Lyons and her wife, Cathy McBride, said they enjoyed seeing how students reacted to receiving their books.

“It was really awesome,” Lyons said. “After what has been a really difficult year education-wise, I think it was really good timing to give everyone a little boost before the summer.”

Both Rowland and Lyons said they foresee the Lyons Reading Fund continuing to provide Dowagiac students will summer reading in the future.

“Given its success and how well it went, I imagine we will keep going with it and see what we can do to grow it,” Lyons said. “We want to create some excitement around reading. Reading really opens up the world to you and lets you see beyond what’s in front of you. There’s nothing quite like it.”

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