February 9, 2012 at 9:39 am EDT | by Dionne Walker
Journalists promote literacy

‘Love Letters for Literacy’
National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave., N.W.
Cocktails, 6:30; dinner and program at 7:30 p.m.
Reservations: $275
Go here for reservations

When John Arundel’s 9-year-old recently mentioned plans to follow in his father’s journalistic footsteps, the Washington Life Magazine associate publisher didn’t tell the precocious reporter to pick up a pen.

He told him to grab a book.

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart at last year’s literacy event. (Photo courtesy Washington Literacy Council)

“I told him he couldn’t be a journalist unless he stepped up his reading and read every day,” says Arundel, an LGBT community ally and one of three local journalists who will read from literary works they love at an event to raise adult illiteracy awareness in Washington.

The Washington Literacy Council hosts its annual “Love Letters for Literacy” fundraiser Wednesday. Now in its 19th year, the fundraiser and reception showcases the area’s top broadcasters, journalists and authors: Arundel will join Andrea Roane, an anchor at WUSA 9 and Washington Post writer Ruth Marcus.

Proceeds will help the nonprofit relocate and launch a branding campaign aimed at raising its profile and connecting more Washingtonians with reading help. The group estimates roughly 38 percent of the city’s adults have “very poor” reading skills. About 200 attended last year’s dinner.

“The need is great and we want to raise our capacity to help meet it,” says Helen Dalton, president of the board of directors at the council.

The event will include a dinner, a silent auction and an award ceremony recognizing champions of literacy.

But the highlight is arguably getting to hear local celebrities share some of the literature that shaped their careers and lives.

For Arundel, the book choice was obvious. The New York Times veteran will read from “The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at the New York Times: The Institution That Influences the World,” a journalism classic by Gay Talese.

“Like Talese, I came to the New York Times in 1989 fresh out of college as an entry-level copy boy and spent two years covering the gritty underbelly of New York,” Arundel says. “It was a great education.”

The experience marked a seminal point in a journalism career that began with a kid’s column in the Fauquier Times-Democrat in Warrenton, Va. — “I wrote about skateboarding and all the things that kids like to read about,” he said — and has taken him through stints at The Miami Herald and The Washington Post. He now covers the philanthropic world at Washington Life, a publication he says has ties to the Human Rights Campaign.

Over the years, Arundel has watched as the rise in online media has dimmed the fortunes of larger publications like the Times. Nonetheless, Arundel believes the online revolution will ultimately prove to be a good thing.

“The positive side of all these blogs and this move toward self publishing is that there are more voices out there, so definitely it’s more of an opportunity for the LGBT community to expand its voice,” he says.

The Washington Literacy Council wants to ensure that more people can understand that voice. The council’s 100 volunteers provide one-on-one and group tutoring, computer training and job coaching to roughly 140 students each year, Dalton says.

This year’s Love Letters event, sponsored by the Washington Blade, coincides with a revamp of the group. The nonprofit will move from a location in Adams Morgan to a spot along 12th Street. Group leaders also will announce plans to change the group’s name to the Washington Literacy Center and unveil a new motto playing off their initials: “Where Lives Change.”

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