Profile: Literacy advocate and Chicago Literacy Alliance leader Mike Ban talks about joys of job July 1, 2015

Mike Ban, executive director of Chicago Literacy Alliance since 2009, has an interesting and diverse work history in business and nonprofit management, including a stint as the Weather Channel’s first sales manager. Now, the full-time literacy advocate recently spoke with us about how he joined the field and what the future holds for the Literacenter, which IFF recently helped to finance through a $350,000 loan for furniture and equipment.

How did you become involved with Book Worm Angels?
The founder of Book Worm Angels and I were having lunch one day, and he told me he’d been taking books to a classroom where he was volunteering for Working in the Schools as the teacher’s assistant. “Isn’t it great,” he said, “that there are 25 kids who now have books to take home?” “There are another 500,000 who could use them,” I countered, to which he said, “Would you like to help me do that?” And I said yes.

When did literacy become a passion of yours?
It grew slowly as I became more involved through my Book Worm Angels connection, but once I started going out to the schools to pitch the program to teachers, my passion exploded! I was sitting in the waiting room to meet with a principal one morning, sitting next to a 2nd- or 3rd- grader who was reading a book. The principal came in, and the first words from him were to the student. “Do you know who this is?” he asked, pointing to me. A shy headshake from the boy made it clear he didn’t. “He’s the man who brings all the books,” said the principal, at which point the boy leaped up and hugged me.

How have CLA and IFF worked together?
Extraordinarily well! From the enthusiastic response to my description of what we’re doing going back close to a year, through to the great turnout of IFF people for our grand opening and the richly deserved room dedication to IFF, our relationship is great. Sure, there was a lot of paperwork to do, but it was clear it was what was needed, and whenever I had a question, I got a response immediately.

What are your top priorities as the CLA executive director?
Near term, growing the number of members, the number of funders, and the amount raised. At the same time, making sure that any literacy organization in the city knows about CLA and that they’re welcome at our monthly open meetings. Finally, letting all know that CLA is all about collaboration, helping organizations find creative and effective ways to improve the state of literacy in Chicago.

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