By (Stephanie Ziegler)

The tornado that hit Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011, left a handful of libraries completely destroyed, taking away the opportunity for local children to read the books libraries once held on their shelves.

When it seemed like the rest of the world forgot the storm, Alabama gymnastics coach Dana Duckworth said she wanted to bring back the passion in her community and felt a calling to give back to those affected by the tornado.

“When you have disasters, it’s in the news and everyone’s worried and busy … a few months later when everyone’s world keeps going, they forget that we had a major catastrophic event,” Duckworth said.

In the weeks that followed the catastrophe, Duckworth partnered with Dana Benjamin to establish Read Bama Read, a nonprofit organization with a goal of placing a book in the hands of every child in Tuscaloosa County. Duckworth and Benjamin set out to raise $150,000 to put 10,000 books back into Tuscaloosa schools and libraries. Read Bama Read’s initial goal was achieved in a matter of 3-4 years.

University Place Elementary School was one Tuscaloosa school hit hard by the tornado. The storm wiped out the second floor classrooms, cafeteria and gym, leaving the library’s collection of books, periodicals and electronic devices destroyed. Read Bama Read donated a check for $25,000 to the school.

“We would not have been able to do what we did in rebuilding the library, and then enhancing our collection as well, without Dana’s [Duckworth] work with Read Bama Read and the $25,000 check,” former principal Deron Cameron said.

Since the program’s inception, Duckworth’s vision for Read Bama Read has grown. She has set a new goal for the program to raise an extra $250,000 and give 200-300 books to every school in Tuscaloosa’s county and city 
school systems.

“Seeing a librarian’s face when you hand them the check, seeing the children opening up the boxes of books when they arrive, being able to make a difference, that’s what life is about in my opinion,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth is supported by her athletes, who help by reading to children in their classrooms and at functions such as the Event at the Tent, where children come to read with athletes from the gymnastics, softball, football, tennis and golf teams in a large tent donated from a 
local business.

Senior gymnast Lauren Beers participated in the Event at the Tent, and felt it was successful. Beers and fellow athletes stressed to the children the importance of reading, and she said she felt Duckworth’s efforts have made a difference in Tuscaloosa.

“Her work is amazing and a great addition to the community,” Beers said. “She has provided so many opportunities for kids to read and to have their own books. I feel that her contribution will have lasting impacts into the future.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports