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Madison Reading Project Celebrates a Decade of Service and Impact

Madison Reading Project Celebrates a Decade of Service and Impact

Rowan Childs didn’t set out to found a nonprofit that has given out more than 501,000 free books for children in the greater Dane County area. She just wanted to help kids get books that reflected their diverse backgrounds and were fun to read. Rowan was inspired by her experience helping her son, then in first grade, rediscover the joy of reading.

She spent a year unsuccessfully trying to find a local organization that was doing what she envisioned. Then she met Will Green, then the community director for the Salvation Army’s Darbo Drive location. Will wanted to provide homework help to the students they were serving but he quickly discovered they needed assistance with reading.

At the same time, Madison’s Race to Equity report (from Kids Forward) confirmed the need for improving children’s literacy skills. A family friend gave Rowan $1,000 in seed money, enabling her to launch a pilot project in January 2014 at the Salvation Army. The success of the pilot resulted in Rowan establishing Madison Reading Project that same year.

Ten years later, the nonprofit’s mission and leadership may be the only things that haven’t changed. Rowan continues to serve as the Founder and Executive Director and the mission remains “to connect our community with free books and literacy resources that ignite a love for reading and affirm and reflect the diversity of young readers.”

Growth has prompted several changes for the organization. In 2021, the nonprofit moved to a new location. In addition to volunteers, now there are both part-time and full-time staffers. And the organization’s Book Bus has been so successful, they’re launching a second Book Bus in May.

Perhaps what’s most impressive about Madison Reading Project’s accomplishments is that all books and programming are free. Teachers can stock their classroom bookshelves by selecting books at the organization’s Book Center. Rowan is very grateful for the public’s response.

“I don’t know if this would be possible in another city or state,” she says. “The only reason we can truly grow like this is community support. Wisconsin Literacy’s resources and programming have been so valuable, too.”

To learn more about Madison Reading Project’s anniversary plans, visit