The following post is a Q&A with Junior League of Washington President Cameron Gilreath.
Many people are familiar with Junior Leagues in their hometowns, but for those who aren’t, can you share with us in brief the mission of the Junior League of Washington?
The Junior League of Washington (JLW) is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. At its core, the purpose of the JLW is educational and charitable, and we really strive to make a tangible difference in the lives of women and children in the D.C. area. We currently have more than 2,300 women who are a part of the JLW, and throughout our history have provided more than 5 million volunteer hours and more than $5.4 million to organizations in our community that reflect our mission.
Why is the National Book Festival and literacy a focus for JLW?
The JLW is committed to using its resources where we can have the largest impact, which is why for over fifteen years, we have focused on one of the greatest challenges facing our region, illiteracy. The ability to read, write, and communicate plays an important role in everyday life and impacts a person’s ability to provide for themselves and their family. We currently work with more than 20 leading, local nonprofits. By improving reading and comprehension skills and educational opportunities, we can help give people a dramatically improved chance for success.
Our focus and dedication to literacy has also produced a long and valued history with the National Book Festival–spanning 13 years and nearly 5,000 JLW volunteers giving more than 23,000 volunteer hours. The National Book Festival provides a great opportunity for the JLW to live out its mission– it provides us with a platform to promote the importance of voluntarism while supporting an initiative that highlights the positive impact of books and literacy.
How many years have you personally been involved in the festival? What are your observations about how it has changed over the years?
I have been involved with the festival for more years than I can count! I look forward to it every year, and I always make an effort to work a shift with the JLW, bring my family and friends, or both! Being involved with the festival for so many years, it has also been really exciting to see the way it has evolved. The festival has really grown into one of the biggest literary events in the nation, with a diverse line-up of top-notch, award winning authors and illustrators. I look forward every year to learning who the Library of Congress has secured to attend. However, one thing about the festival that doesn’t change is the excitement and genuine enthusiasm you see each year from the attendees!
What is your favorite thing about the festival?
For me, the best part about the National Book Festival, hands down, is seeing kids get so excited to meet and interact with their favorite authors. Last year I spent some time volunteering in the book signing area in the line that was hosting author and illustrator Dav Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants children’s novel. Kids were going crazy to meet him! A number of kids had even brought books to show him that they had made after reading Captain Underpants. Their creativity was truly amazing. As a lifelong reader, there’s nothing more exciting than to see the power that books have to inspire kids.
The theme of this year’s festival is “I Cannot Live Without Books.” Tell us about a book you cannot live without.
I am an avid reader and can always be found with a book in my hand, so it is difficult for me to pick just one book that I cannot live without! However, one of my all-time favorite books by one of my favorite authors is “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. I have read this book many times, and am always amazed at the different layers and lessons I pull from it. Several years ago at the National Book Festival it was a huge thrill to be able to meet John Irving, and have him sign my copy of his book–which, I should note, is yellowed and dog-eared from so many readings over the years. Thomas Jefferson’s words resonate just as much today for so many of us who truly “cannot live without books.”
I love seeing the JLW volunteers at the National Book Festival every year!