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Reflections on Seven Years as Executive Director

February 25th marks my employment anniversary as Executive Director of BookSpring, which started in 2015. As my motto is “Follow compassion, lead with reflection, and serve with commitment,” I’d like to take this time to share some of the triumphs and learning moments observed during this relatively brief time of work.

I am reminded of a quote by the poet Kahlil Gibran:

“You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.”

The numbers are reassuring. We give out more and more books each year, and our partnerships are increasingly diverse and far-reaching. The Executive Director role at BookSpring is more a connector of people, organizations, and resources than a traditional top-down leader, although there are times bold action is needed to keep the mission moving forward. Overall, I believe I am getting better in this role, and the organization is growing more robust and more agile in its ability to develop and support young readers.

When I arrived, the organization was already 41 years old, starting as the volunteer-driven Friends of Reading is Fundamental of Austin, and only seven years along with the name of BookSpring, the result of a merger with Capitol Area Reach Out and Read. They say that in 7 years, all the cells of your body have gone through a cycle of regeneration. Back then, I was fresh to the entire group, with one friend of a friend as a recommendation, and it was hard to understand the unique culture that had developed across the organization and its partners. It was fascinating to listen to all the stories of the past.

There was a doctor who spoke of how a young refugee mother cried with joy when they gave her a book in Arabic, her home language, and who said, “next to immunizations, this is the most important thing I do as a pediatrician.”

There was pride in developing our motivational event kits, full of props and costumes and ideas for transforming libraries into magical book celebration spaces by theme, and the dozens and dozens of happy photos of children getting their forever books at these events.

There was the story of the mother who came up to a parent reading facilitator in the hallway after school and said, “I remember you, you taught my mother to read to me, and now I read to my child every day.”

These are memories and milestones to be honored, remembered, and sustained. Those essential relationships with school librarians, doctors, and parents eventually became the partner areas of Rx, Ed, and Go. I could not be more grateful to those of you who worked and gave your time and treasures to make these stories and programmatic efforts possible.

The things that I’ve learned over this time are more subtle and complex. I’ve learned to be clearer in my direction, focus on the physical working environment and how it affects interpersonal dynamics and the organization’s productivity, and believe that trust is not something to be earned, and it is something that must be first given particularly from a leader.

But most importantly, I confirm my commitment to this organization as a shared means to better reading outcomes for as many children as we can serve. I proclaim that our mission, to build early literacy in children and families through healthcare, education, and the community is as sound and needed now as ever and will likely be so for many years to come. This charge transcends any everyday tensions and worries of communication and logistics.

I hope you’ll agree that there is something infinitely remarkable about BookSpring as an organization. It is sprawling and rare in its ambition, uniquely doing its essential work. Our impact is sometimes hard to quantify and describe but always evident when you experience it directly. People love BookSpring. Free reading-rich motivational moments and book distributions need to continue to better the kids and families who get them, and partners and staff and board and donors and volunteers who make up the robust networks that give the gift of a lifetime love a reading.

Thank you from my heart and soul for the opportunity to serve in this role and for all the leadership and support you’ve contributed to making this organization possible. I hope to be with you on this organizational journey for at least the next seven years and believe that BookSpring as a culture, organization, and mission will carry far, far wider, and beyond.

Written by Emily Ball Cicchini, PhD

Reflections on Seven Years as Executive Director
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Reflections on Seven Years as Executive Director

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