Reading Legacies

Reading Legacies

February 26, 2014 | Betty J. Mohlenbrock, Founder and President, Reading Legacies


Reading Legacies is a California-based nonprofit organization launched in 2010 to serve children and youth who lack the emotional support of committed role models or whose lives have been torn apart by parental incarceration. Reading Legacies provides solutions to these devastating societal challenges through the transformational power of the shared-reading experience.

Reading Legacies is a California-based nonprofit organization launched in 2010 to serve children and youth who lack the emotional support of committed role models or whose lives have been torn apart by parental incarceration. Reading Legacies provides solutions to these devastating societal challenges through the transformational power of the shared-reading experience.

We know that failure to become interested and competent in reading at an early age can put children at risk for life. As reported in this article by Steve Cohen in the December 25, 2010, issue of Forbes magazine, “Texas uses fourth grade reading scores to project the number of prison cells they’re going to need 10 years later.” This is because by fourth grade, children should be able to use reading skills to build all other types of academic achievement. A study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2011 found that students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. The number is higher for children living in poverty.

Reading Legacies is breaking this cycle through two shared reading program models, Family Connections and Community Connections, serving children and youth throughout San Diego County. Our collaborators include schools, libraries, and probation departments in jails and prisons.

Community Connections enables at-risk youth to become role models by taking responsibility for reading regularly to younger children and youth. Family Connections provides role-modeling opportunities for incarcerated family members who, after receiving training and practice in how to read a children’s book in a confident and engaging manner, are videotaped reading a book. This is then formatted onto a DVD and mailed, along with the book, in an envelope addressed directly to their children. The children are relieved to know that their parents are alive and well and that their parents still love them.

It is also believed that by strengthening the bonds between incarcerated family members and their children, recidivism rates may be reduced. Expressions of gratitude received from incarcerated participants suggest that the consequences of their participation can be quite profound at a personal level. They self-identify again as parents, rather than as simply inmates.

An incarcerated father of two children (ages 5 and 6) said the following.

I would just like to give thanks for the opertunity [opportunity] to send my love threw [through] this program. You know to [too] often a man like myself feels like hes [he’s] on the outside looking in when at the same time hes [he’s] on the inside reaching out.

This is a statement from an incarcerated mother of two children (one born immediately prior to her incarceration).

My baby is now two years old, and she calls my mom and sister mommy. I never once read a book to my boy at home. My daughter has never seen my face and this gift is a chance to help me bond with her.

Volunteers are key to every aspect of our program. The ongoing success and sustainability of Family Connections is anchored in the many volunteer hours contributed by community members and students of all ages and academic levels. An ongoing challenge, however, has been to find individuals who are comfortable volunteering in correctional facilities. This has been addressed through our extra efforts at networking and creating awareness in the community. We seek out organizations that are more apt to be interested in this type of volunteerism, such as faith-based organizations, school faculties and students pursuing careers in social work, law enforcement and education, etc.

Volunteers often serve as ambassadors in these organizations, and this has proven fruitful in extending and diversifying organizational involvement. For example, we also use volunteers in our Book Drive Initiative, which allows various types of membership organizations to help without having to go inside correctional facilities. Almost everyone likes to give a children’s book to a child—it is a feel-good action!

Reading Legacies is pleased to present at the NCCD Conference on Children, Youth, and Families, held May 14–16 in San Diego. We look forward to sharing more in-depth information about our program methodology, plans for increasing and replicating our results, and new research activities to evaluate program impacts and refine our metrics for success.

Our lead presenters will be Dr. Daniel M. Blumberg, PhD, assistant professor for Alliant International University’s Department of Undergraduate Psychology, and Dr. Dawn A. Griffin, PhD, program director for Alliant International University. Dr. Blumberg is designing and will implement two official research projects approved by the institutional review board. The results will show our program’s impact on incarcerated parents (and other family members) and on their children.

Dr. Blumberg is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 25 years of experience as a public safety psychologist. He has provided all facets of clinical and consulting psychological services to numerous public and private organizations. He specializes in employment-related psychological evaluations, psycho-educational training, and management consultation. Dr. Blumberg is a renowned authority on undercover police operations and the selection, training, and supervision of undercover operatives. His training program on successful hiring of private sector and public safety personnel has received widespread praise. Dr. Blumberg teaches a variety of psychology and forensics courses and his research interests include police integrity, emotional intelligence, and programs for incarcerated parents and their children.

Dr. Griffin has extensive experience in law enforcement, child welfare, and educational systems and how these systems respond to children and families who have been exposed to trauma and violence. Dr. Griffin has worked for the US Department of Justice in California’s Antiterrorism Information Center, where she created a training program on terrorism. Dr. Griffin works with local, state, and federal law enforcement and social service agencies to conduct social autopsies, primarily of child fatalities, with the intent of improving systems and moving beyond blame to prevent child fatalities. She actively trains medical, behavioral health, education, law enforcement, and social service agencies throughout the country and internationally on integrating trauma-informed care into their practices, policies, and environments. Dr. Griffin is a Safe Start consultants to the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Dependency Prevention, where she provides technical assistance to Safe Start sites.

Also presenting will be Will Brown, commander for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and Yvette Klepin, assistant chief probation officer for the San Diego County Probation Department. Commander Brown and Officer Klepin will provide a perspective on the logistical and administrative challenges that must be addressed in bringing Reading Legacies staff and volunteers into their facilities and the effects that they perceive on the morale of inmates and the correctional and administrative personnel who work with them.

Betty J. Mohlenbrock is an educator, reading specialist, and Founder and President of Reading Legacies. Her first nonprofit organization, United Through Reading, benefited over one million military service members and their families during her 20 years of leadership. Soon after, she began developing Reading Legacies with the mission of empowering children and youth as valued family and community members through intergenerational shared-reading experiences and with the goal of serving children and youth who are most at risk of not having a solid educational foundation for success in school and life. Her numerous awards include the 2012 LEAD San Diego Visionary Award, Traditional Home’s The Classic Woman Award, the 2008 University of Illinois Alumni Humanitarian Award, and the 2006 Peter Drucker Award for Non-Profit Innovation. Learn more at