Camesha CoxUWindsor alumna Camesha Cox has won a $750,000 grant from TD bank for her literacy program called The Reading Partnership for Parents.

Grant to help alumna scale literacy programs

Camesha Cox (BComm 2007, B.Ed 2009) is a founder.

While a student at the University of Windsor, she organized the first African Disaspora Festival, AfroFest. Once out in the working world, Cox founded The Reading Partnership, a non-profit organization that delivers literacy programs to some of Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Now, armed with a $750,000 grant from TD bank, Cox will be able to say she is helping parents across the country teach their children to read.

Cox’s organization has won a TD Ready Challenge grant to help address predicted learning loss due to the pandemic. The Reading Partnership will use the grant to expand its early literacy programming to new communities across Canada.

“School closures and the shift to remote learning during the pandemic disproportionately impacts certain groups, based on factors like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic stats, and geographic location,” Cox said.

“While numerous school subjects have been impacted, reading is of particular concern.”

Together with the Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation, The Reading Partnership will expand its Reading Partnership for Parents program, which helps parents teach their children in kindergarten and Grade 1 to read. The first program Cox designed when she launched her organization 10 years ago, Reading Partnership for Parents has been offered to families in the Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park community in East Scarborough. The area has a high poverty rate and is home to the highest concentration of social housing in Toronto.

Helping children in “low-income, high-potential neighbourhoods” reach their potential is the idea of the program, said Cox.

“Parents need to be empowered to help their kids,” she said. “We need a safety net in place for kids not being adequately supported in schools.”

Cox graduated from the Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Education programs at UWindsor and later earned a Master of Education from the University of Toronto and a post-graduate degree in social innovation from the University of Waterloo.

She said a year of teaching in London, England inspired her to focus on children being left behind in the education system.

In the east London borough of Hackney, Cox developed a literacy program for students in Grades 7 to 9 who before her intervention were reading at a primary level.

“I knew what was happening in London was happening in my community back home.”

Cox wanted to focus on prevention.

With a $12,000 grant from the United Way, she launched The Reading Partnership with programming to help 12 families.

It has grown each year, and now has three signature programs. One, called 360 Stories, helps children aged 9 to 12 bring their ideas for a book to life. They get one-on-one support to write, illustrate, and publish their stories. More than 100 children can now boast they are published authors, their stories included in one of eight anthologies created through The Reading Partnership in collaboration with Story Planet, another Toronto-based literacy organization.

During the pandemic, Cox launched Kids Read TO, a virtual reading program offered throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Children work their way though a chapter book together through weekly online sessions.

“There’s a social element that was important during the pandemic,” said Cox. “They’re neighbourhoods apart, but they’re brought together because they are reading the same book.”

The Reading Partnership offers free books and literacy kits to families. The organization collaborates with Toronto-area colleges on programs and receives funding through the United Way and the provincial Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

A registered charity, The Reading partnership holds fundraising events and relies on donations to offer its programming. This year, Cox hopes to open a new revenue stream by offering The Ready Partnership literacy kits for sale.

“It’s been a beautiful journey,” said Cox, of how her organization has grown.

She credits Cecil Houston, the late UWindsor dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Studies, for helping give her the skills for success.

When she organized the first AfroFest, Cox asked Dr. Houston’s faculty for money. Houston set up a meeting, where he not only gave her money, but marked up her proposal with revisions to improve her chances of getting funding elsewhere, too.

“I learned so much in that one meeting,” Cox said. “He was so encouraging.”

When Houston died in 2016, his family asked that memorial donations be made to UWindsor’s African Diaspora Empowerment Fund, a scholarship fund Cox helped him establish.

Cox said her commerce degree helps her run the business end of her organization. Her teacher training has helped her develop materials and deliver the programing.

“Many of the skills I’m using I developed right there on campus,” she said.

The funding through the TD Ready Challenge is a watershed moment for her organization.

“It’s been incubating in one community for 10 years and now we can scale it,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be able to do this kind of work.”

—Sarah Sacheli