Senator Tom Harkin couldn’t help shedding some tears Tuesday night at the 18th annual Gala for Everybody Wins! DC, a nonprofit organization devoted to cultivating children’s literacy through shared reading experiences. The Democrat from Iowa who has mentored a number of young readers at Brent Elementary over the last 16 years not only received recognition and a Pioneer Award, he came face to face with one of his earliest efforts — and the pride came pouring out.
A special surprise guest — Amy, Harkin’s first Everybody Wins! DC mentee — flew across the country to honor him and give him firsthand proof that he had made a difference in her life.
“I am the child of an immigrant. I am from a broken home. But I am not a statistic… because of all of you here tonight,” beamed Amy, a High School Senior who has already been accepted to one of her top choice colleges (Arizona State). She gave particular credit to the Senator for being a “Father-figure” in the absence of one in her own home.
“Who could be a better reading mentor than a Senator who crafts bills for improvement in education, civil rights and agriculture; a Senator with a strong sense of social justice and who cares about people?”
Overcome with sentiment and almost too surprised to take the stage, Harkin, who described his 16 years of reading with Everybody Wins DC as a “sheer joy” and “one of the best hours of the week I spend,” reminisced over some of the books he read with Amy and his current mentee, Luther.
He explained that although he’ll be retiring and leaving the local program, he has started a chapter of the Everybody Wins! organization in Des Moines and plans to continue to dedicate his time and page-turning talents. And it seems he’ll keep looking after Amy as well.
“If you go to Arizona State,” he told her and the audience, “the President of Arizona State is a good friend of mine. I’ll get you the best dorm room a Freshman ever had!”