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Rising Stars: Meet Michelle Otten Guenther of Queensgate, outside of downtown Cincinnati

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Otten Guenther.

Hi Michelle, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
The Literacy Network was founded in 1986 as an adult literacy services organization and evolved through the years to serve both children and adults through tutoring, book distribution and literacy outreach. I personally joined the organization as a volunteer in 2012. My mom introduced me as she had been volunteering as an adult literacy instructor for some time. As a former teacher, I was interested in helping anyway I could and soon after was hired to coordinate one of the children’s programs in 2014. I fell in love with the mission and especially enjoyed seeing kids face light up when they learned a new word or something clicked for them. In 2016, I became the President of the Literacy Network and was privileged to take on this new leadership role. In 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting Todd Bol, the founder of Little Free Libraries at a literacy summit meeting. He challenged the Literacy Network to lead the expansion of Little Free Libraries and increase book distribution throughout our region. We were shocked to learn only 1 in 300 households had an age-appropriate book for their children and that book access is directly correlated to future educational success. Armed with statistics, we secured funding to place 50 of our Little Free Libraries in areas with “book deserts” so that every child has 24/7 access to books. Since that day, we have grown the program to 150 libraries, 50 more to install and over 120,000 books distributed! The Little Free Library program led us to our most recent and exciting initiative, the Queen City Book Bank. The book bank will dramatically improve book access in Greater Cincinnati and also offers a unique space for collaboration, volunteering and literacy outreach. As we prepare for the upcoming school year, we look forward to serving more students and working with more schools/partners to help create a lasting impact!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
We knew that the Queen City Book Bank had the potential to be a cornerstone of the literacy community in our city and a valuable resource for our schools and families for years to come. However, finding the right physical space to get the program started was crucial to its future growth and success. We were facing the challenges of the current rental market/lack of inventory and ensuring we had a convenient location, reliable building and reasonable rent. Luckily, all the stars aligned and we found a wonderful building with two warehouses (one for used books and one for new books), office space, collaborative space and easy volunteer/adult student access.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I consider our two biggest strengths as a staff and an organization: Listening and People Power.

Listening: As programs have grown over time, we learned the strongest voices for true change are: the students, teachers and parents who are working toward thriving educational futures. By listening and working in tandem, together, we can create lasting change.

People Power: Our programs rooted in the most valuable resource of all: people power. We believe in creating impact through collaboration and the army of volunteers, supporters and friends loyal to our mission.

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
My favorite thing to do each week during the school year is to tutor at the Oyler Elementary School mentoring room. It is always an energizing morning that reminds me of our mission and the important goals our organization works toward each day. I leave there smiling and can’t wait to go back!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
We took all of these photos and we ensured the children in photos had a waiver, except the one with the group with Change Sings books; but they are with a partner organization who has waivers on the children as well. Let me know if you need specifics on any photos.

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