New Paltz Races for Literacy in Uganda

Photo by Jillian Nadiak.

From start to finish, participants donated not only their sweat and energy, but their contributions toward creating a literate world in Uganda.

More than 100 people attended New Paltz’s first annual “Let’s Get Literate” 5K run on Sunday, Oct. 16. The event, dedicated to alleviating the global issue of illiteracy, raised $3,000, nearly doubling the funding goal of $1,597.

The race took place at the corner of Plains Road and Pencil Hill Road, where Derek Lake crossed the finish line in 15 minutes and 10 seconds for first place overall out of 86 runners. Other notable finishers were Pete Schweddy, who finished first in the 19 years and under category, and James Sullivan for the 30 to 39 age group.

The event was formed by the Literate Earth Project (LEP), a nonprofit group that creates libraries in Uganda by empowering and employing local communities, offering support to sustain continued growth, and partnering with local entities and educators. To date, The Literate Earth Project has opened 10 school libraries in Uganda, with four more slated to open this year.

“It started when I went to Uganda,” LEP Chief Financial Officer Joe Gentsch said. “I remember seeing a lot of kids running around and being excited over books and I noticed how far the dollar could go. Only $1,600 could fill a school with a new library and all these books and it just sparked me to organize this event.”

The group was founded in 2011 by Jeff Fonda, who graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2010. Fonda  studied International Relations and Black Studies. In addition to his work with The Literate Earth Project, Jeff is currently a Master of Business Administration (MBA) candidate at Temple’s Fox School of Business. He is also an assistant coach for Swarthmore College Women’s Soccer Varsity team.

Fonda was recently named to Literacy Today’s 2016 “30-under-30” list. This showcases creative and methodical approaches to promoting literacy to those that need it most.

According to the list, the LEP team took a trip to Uganda in 2009, and noticed students using only hand-copied versions of textbooks and having almost no outlet to read for enjoyment. The few books owned by the school were locked away, but when Fonda got his hands on a couple world atlases and showed them to his students, he saw how excited the children were to read about and see new cities, trees, and people.

“This is really an award for the organization as a whole, which I just happen to get the credit for as our founder,” Fonda said. “However, it shows the support we have internationally. We have a backlog of over fifty schools in Uganda ready to partner with our organization. Every $1,600 we raise for a new library is access to books for roughly 600 students who have never touched one let alone had the opportunity to read one.”

As a former New Paltzian, Fonda also spoke about the idea of bringing the event to New Paltz in the first place, expressing his gratitude towards the support from the community.

“I called New Paltz home for some of my most formative years,” Fonda said. “It’s where I was when the idea for The Literate Earth Earth Project came to fruition, so it feels great to be supported by the community in this way.”

Gentsch reported that the group is highly considering bringing the event back next year and hopefully can add live music, food and a potential 10K race to it—all in hopes to enforce social, economic and political change through literacy and education.

“It definitely brought a strong sense of community,” Gentsch said. “A lot of people wanted to help out and each person seemed open and excited about the idea. The word we spread about the organization and the involvement was great, we hope to see people come out next year.”


                                       Did You Know?

• The “Let’s Get Literate” 5K charity

  race aims to alleviate the global

  Issue of Illiteracy.

  • All proceeds of the race went to The

  Literate Earth Project (LEP), a

  Nonprofit that creates libraries in

  Uganda by empowering and employing

  local communities, offering support

  to sustain continued growth, and

  partnering with local entities and


  •The Literate Earth Project was

  founded by former New Paltzian

  Jeff Fonda.

  •More than 17 area stores And

  Restaurants supported the cause.

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