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Springfield nonprofit helps with literacy projects

As part of a book club at Matheny-Withrow Elementary School launched this past semester by the Springfield nonprofit iMagicNation, third-graders read “Hachiko Waits,” the story of a Japanese Akita dog who faithfully showed up to help his owner every day. greeting at a train station, even years after the professor’s death, and was immortalized with a bronze statue.

Donna Brown, the founder of iMagicNation, said the exercise was more than reading a book.

An acquaintance of Brown’s from Chicago had an Akita dog, a large, muscular spitz breed native to Japan, so Brown arranged for her to bring him to class.

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“They asked questions about the dog. We were able to take the story (from the book) and make connections,” Brown recalls. ‘It’s not enough to give a child a book. You have to open it for him and make it come to life.

“I’ve seen the magic. I’ve seen the transformative power (of reading). That’s an experience students will never forget.”

Brown has been making reading magic for the past decade.

Now she wants to make her mark by saying something about what she calls “a book desert” in Springfield.

Donna Brown answers questions in her home on Thursday, May 23, 2024.Donna Brown answers questions in her home on Thursday, May 23, 2024.

Donna Brown answers questions in her home on Thursday, May 23, 2024.

The 62-year-old Chicago native, who was honored April 22 as the 2024 Distinguished Volunteer Award during the Good as Gold ceremony at the University of Illinois Springfield, wants to start a literacy and tutoring center on the city’s east side.

The organization owns property on the northeast corner of 16th and Spruce streets, acquired through auctions, Brown said.

Brown, who recently retired from Chase Bank, is working to create a summer tutoring program with future neighbor Zion Missionary Baptist Church to give the nonprofit a foothold on the east side.

A self-described lover of “all things books and all things words,” Brown was once in charge of creating volunteer programs, including ones in which adults helped mentor and tutor children, for District 186.

In her role as volunteer coordinator, Brown oversaw the district’s summer reading program and founded Real Men Read, which had some 60 business executives, politicians and judges as part of its cohort.

After the district eliminated her position in 2013, Brown and a group of other volunteers wanted to continue working with children on literacy projects, so she started iMagicNation and continues to run it from her home.

The idea was to spread the magic of reading, Brown said. Too often, schools make reading “punishing, when it should actually be presented as a pleasure,” she disputed.

Now Brown people like Bob Bunn of Bunn Capital, Judge Theodis Lewis and Dr. Wesley Robinson-McNeese of the SIU School of Medicine involved in Real Men Read, a program the district brought back this school year: “I really saw kids change their perspectives about reading,” she said.

Brown was nominated for the Good as Gold award by Calvin B. Allen, who recently retired as 21st Century coordinator with the Springfield Urban League.

The Urban League has brought iMagicNation to its NKIRU camp for middle school and high school students for the past two years.

“(It was) one of the best decisions we made,” Allen said. “(iMagicNation’s) program is creative and they have a unique way of engaging youth and getting their buy-in.”

Brown said he is committed to making an east side resource center a reality. Although there are plans for a permanent facility, she is not averse to a modular unit being added to the location for the time being.

“My passion is helping families and children who don’t have the resources to help them,” she said. “If you don’t have the option to pay for a private tutor, what then?”

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788; [email protected]; X, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

This article originally appeared in State Journal-Register: iMagicNation nonprofit eyeing new home in Springfield