Giving – Dollar General, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, and Me

It is the season of giving.  I can’t tell you how much it meant for me to give to Read Aloud West Virginia.  This would not have happened if I hadn’t been a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show.  Her mother was a teacher, and grew up in West Virginia.  We have a terrific connection.  Kelly is a genuine giver.

This newsletter from Read Aloud West Virginia tells the story of me, back home.  More importantly, it tells the story of Dollar General.  The co-founder was functionally illiterate.  It was his grandson who wanted to give to literacy in light of his grandfather, and founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

This is just like Dolly Parton!  Her father could not read.  She has been instrumental in giving books to children and her Imagination Library.

Appalachian roots are strong, from West Virginia to Tennessee.  Giving is, too.  I’m glad I brought some of that along with me when I moved to New England.  Giving is everything.

Dollar General gives $50,000 in honor of longtime supporter Jennie Fitzkee

By Amanda Schwartz

Photo courtesy of The Kelly Clarkson Show, NBCUniversal Syndication Studios
Jennie Fitzkee, center, is surprised by the announcement of Dollar General’s generous donation on The Kelly Clarkson Show.

When The Kelly Clarkson Show chose to celebrate preschool teacher Jennie Fitzkee ­­— a West Virginia native and longtime Read Aloud WV supporter ­—Read Aloud’s Executive Director Dawn Miller was asked to video call in to the filming as a surprise.

“Anything for Jennie Fitzkee!” she replied.

Miller was excited to be part of recognizing a dedicated supporter and local literacy champion, but had no idea there was a surprise in store. Both Fitzkee and Miller were shocked and deeply touched by Dollar General’s announcement of a $50,000 gift to Read Aloud in honor of Fitzkee and World Teacher Day.

Fitzkee became involved with Read Aloud in 2012 after the passing of her childhood friend, Read Aloud champion Candy Galyean. Fitzkee (born Jennie Lively Lytton) grew up with Galyean in Huntington, but moved to Groton, Mass., where she has been a preschool teacher for almost 40 years. When her sister sent Galyeans’s obituary in 2012, Fitzkee saw it suggested donations to Read Aloud West Virginia.

“I thought, ‘This has got to be someplace else!’” Fitzkee recalled. “I just can’t believe this! I never knew about this wonderful place.”

Fitzkee called and spoke with Read Aloud founder and then Executive Director Mary Kay Bond. They had much in common, including an inspiration, Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, first published in 1979.

Eager to give back to her home state and support her friend’s legacy, Fitzkee began collecting books. She and her students and community gathered so many she and husband Steve Fitzkee rented a truck and drove them all the way from Groton, Mass. to Charleston.

After that momentous donation, Fitzkee has continued to support Read Aloud, nurtures readers through her blog “A Teacher’s Reflections,” and has contributed to this newsletter.

“This gift means so much to us,” said Executive Director Dawn Miller. “It is an acknowledgment of the lifelong value of our work to help children develop an intrinsic motivation to read, and it will help Read Aloud to stay strong and flexible, of course.

“But with this gift the Dollar General Literacy Foundation also recognizes the efforts of every volunteer, every teacher, every school coordinator, every principal, every donor ­­— every friend of Read Aloud who has contributed to the effort to help children discover joy in reading,” she said.

“On top of all that, we are touched and honored to still be part of remembering Candy Galyean, who even now plays such an important role in bringing us together in this cause.”

Over the past 28 years, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has donated more than $203 million to provide funding and resources to support literacy advancement and has helped more than 14.8 million individuals learn to read. In both 2020 and 2021, they granted funds to Read Aloud to support shipments of self-chosen books to low-income children across the Mountain state, keeping them reading through the pandemic and beyond.

Dollar General’s co-founder, J.L. Turner, was functionally illiterate and never completed a formal education. In 1993, J.L.’s grandson, Cal Turner, Jr., founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to honor him and support others’ educational journeys.

Dollar General and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s $4.5 million investment to help students, teachers, and nonprofit organizations working to support and improve youth literacy across the country includes more than $3 million in youth literacy grants from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and a new $1.45 million partnership with education nonprofit Donors Choose.

To watch the announcement and Fitzkee’s heartwarming reaction, click here.

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in books, children's books, Early Education, Giving, Inspiration, Jim Trelease, literacy, reading, reading aloud, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

88 Responses to Giving – Dollar General, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, and Me

  1. Ritu says:

    This was an amazing part of your segment, Jennie xx

  2. This was such an awesome episode. I remember it well. So heartwarming ❤️

  3. The gift of books and reading is priceless. Well done Jennie.

  4. GP says:

    I am thrilled for you! Literacy is an important subject many are too embarrassed to discuss.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, GP! Those who cannot read are too ashamed to discuss it. I’ll never forget the scene in the movie “League of Their Own” (about the WWII women’s baseball league) when the list of players who made the team was posted, and one player couldn’t read the list. Isn’t it wonderful that these Literacy Foundations stem from family members who could not read? I think that’s wonderful!

      Merry Christmas to you, GP! 🎄

  5. Dan Antion says:

    This is so wonderful Jennie, to have the good things you do recognized in a way that helps the cause you support. It’s all intertwined in an amazing way.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Dan. I was focused on the givers, Dollar General and even Dolly Parton. You make a great point that it’s all intertwined- and it is! I’m part of that, and I can sleep at night knowing I helped giving, in a roundabout way.

  6. Great story, Jennie. I loved watching the show and your reaction.

  7. Jim Borden says:

    what a terrific write-up!

    it is impressive how generous Dollar General has been over the years towards literacy.

    and how wonderful that you have been such a key part of advocating for reading and that you are being recognized for your commitment…

    well done!

  8. willedare says:

    Way to go, Jennie!!! This also makes me feel differently about the Dollar General stores. Thank you for all you do — teaching in school, teaching in your community, teaching via your blog, etc. etc. etc.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Will! Like you, I now think completely differently about Dollar General. I’m ashamed I didn’t know more. I feel so lucky every day that I teach children. Read, sing, paint, play outside is, well, everything.

      BTW, a parent in my class just completed her training in Music Together! Also have you heard about the big music center being built in Groton? Groton Hills Music Center. Indian Hill Arts is doing this; they have been THE music venue and music education here forever. So, they bought Jay Giles farm (yes, Jay Giles Band) and the construction has been ongoing for a long time. Next fall is supposed to be their opening. I’m curious, in your neck of the woods have you heard of this?

  9. quiall says:

    The gift of reading will last a lifetime.

  10. Darlene says:

    This is so wonderful. It must make your heart sing. You have brought reading to so many kids. Well done. XO

    • Jennie says:

      My heart is singing and bursting. Who knew Dollar General had a literacy foundation? What a gift, and to think Kelly Clarkson made this happen. What a full circle after so many years (decades) of reading aloud. Thank you, Darlene!

  11. beetleypete says:

    What a moment in your life! A never-to-be-forgotten occasion, preserved for posterity on video. Well done to you and Dollar General, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, what a moment in my life. To think that my reading aloud was on the Kelly Clarkson Show, and Dollar General made a huge donation to literacy. It’s a circle of goodness.

      Pete, were you able to view the video? So many bloggers on your side of the pond could not when it was first aired. Best to you.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I had never paid much attention to Kelly Clarkson before your appearance on her show. Now I love hearing and reading about her.

    • Jennie says:

      Interestingly, I learned about Kelly over the course of the year when I was being interviewed. She is as genuine and kind as they come. The story I love the most that I was told, was just after she won American Idol, she was invited to be on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. There she was, a ‘nobody’ (sort of) with these famous people. She never forgot that, and never forgot her roots. Her show has a ‘nobody’ along with famous people.

      We talked for a few minutes off camera, and she was like a best friend. Really.

  13. That was amazing, inspiring, and goosebumps generating wonderful!!!

  14. What a great story! How exciting that you were honored in such a way and so many benefited from it! I loved this story so much, I could read it over and over and may do just that! Thank you for sharing and for shining your light! It’s truly uplifting!!!! Good things do happen! Happy holidays to you!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much! It was such an honor to be on the show. I was shocked at Dollar General giving so much money. Hats off to their literacy foundation. Good things happen when you do good things. Merry Christmas!

  15. I remember you popping up like a jack in the box that day I watched and the tears rolled down my cheeks with sheer joy for you. They are doing it again. No matter where you go, you touch someone’s life in a way that can never be imagined. You have the Midas touch with books and words. Bless you, Jennie and Merry, Merry Christmas.

    • Jennie says:

      Oh, Marlene. Your words are always arrows straight to the heart. My heart. Thank you! A Midas touch with books and words is quite a gift. The best gift is touching someone’s life; books and words do that. If I can be the carrier, I’m blessed.

      When I read this article from the Read Aloud West Virginia newsletter, I was so struck by the history behind Dollar General. His story is much like Dolly Parton. Illiteracy. So, I know there is a next step for me. It will be wonderful, and whatever it is will come to me like a lightbulb. It always happens that way.
      Merry Christmas to you, Marlene! 🎄

      • I looked up the Dollar General as well. Illiteracy is wider than most realize. I dated a lovely young man when I was a high school freshman. When I found out he was illiterate, it broke my heart. He was 4 years older and had learned to navigate the world without reading. It’s something that tugs at me as well. I know there is so much more ahead for you. Merry Christmas, dear Jennie.

      • Jennie says:

        That story is so sad. If he was able to navigate the world without reading, he could have learned to read. Yes, it’s more widespread than we realize. I think there is something ahead, Marlene. It usually presents itself like a bolt of lightening. Merry Christmas!! Germany must be wonderful at Christmas time.

  16. All those connections – and as an outsider, I really get it that you and Dolly are Appalachian Sisters!
    I had to smile when I saw the mention of your ‘given’ name so that all locals could focus on whose family you’re from etc…hubby’s parents were native West Virginians and it’s a big deal being a ‘Lilly’ (and ‘Ward’) round those parts!!!!(Beckley/Beaver)
    You’re right, giving is strong in those mountains .

    • Jennie says:

      Laura, you always have the looking glass. Yes, Dolly and I are Appalachian sisters. As long as I’ve lived in New England, I’m still a southerner at heart. Given names are a big thing so people know who you and your family are. Roots are strong, and giving is strong.

  17. I had to watch the show clip again. Wonderful!

  18. Wonderful, wonderful… 💞 Sharing the love!

  19. bosssybabe says:

    Amazing! I loved every bit of it and getting to see her person behind the blog was fun too! Now when I read your posts I see and hear your enthusiasm!!! Great accomplishment!!!! Congrats!

  20. TanGental says:

    Your reaction is priceless, Jennie. I Imagine, in nightclubs across the State people are incorporating it in their dance moves. Doing a Fitzee will become a thing I’m certain. And the grand interconnectedness of things once again leads from a school friendship to an inspiring giving to an amazing donation. Love the way charitable genetics work, one strand connecting to another and so on… merry Christmas

    • Jennie says:

      Haha! Doing the Fitzkee on the dance floor is really funny. Yes, those connections are like a string of Christmas lights. It’s rather wondrous to ponder. Merry Christmas, Geoff!

  21. WOW! WOW! WOW! How very wonderful! Look at you making such a difference.I am thrilled to see this. Congratulations Jennie!!

  22. K.L. Hale says:

    This is so inspiring, Jennie! Look at what your passion, and those before you, have done to spread literacy! What a beautiful blessing!!! ❤️❤️❤️

  23. Previous comments say it all, Jennie. Wonderful! What a fabulous initiative. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours and the best possible New Year. Thanks for reading ABAB too – much appreciated!

  24. Pingback: Giving – Dollar General, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, and Me - TheChange

  25. Congratulations, Jennie! Wonderful. You did it, and it was great! :-)) xx Michael

  26. Absolutely fabulous Jennie and so many children will benefit from this and your dedication to reading aloud and books in general. What a great celebration… will share in the blogger weekly on Wednesday..♥

  27. dgkaye says:

    Best TV performance Jennie! Lol. You are a star. 🙂 xx

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks so much, Debbie. What a moment! I was never nervous! This was one of the best things that has happened to me, not only being on the show, but initiating a gigantic donation. I know I did something good for others. As to TV, did you ever watch the children’s show Reading Rainbow? LeVar Burton was the star, and he read books to children. I would love to be the next LeVar Burton!

  28. This is more than wonderful. I must admit, the video of the show brought a tear to my eye, Well done, Jennie!

  29. Wow, Jennie. What a wonderful acknowledgment of all you do! Loved watching this. 🙂

  30. petespringerauthor says:

    This was one of the best parts of the year, Jennie. It’s an honor to be friends with someone so committed to promoting literacy and doing everything you can for children. I’m happy when good people get attention for doing the right thing. (I know that’s not why you do what you do, but it makes me happy for you anyway.)

    • Jennie says:

      I love how you said this, Pete. Thank you! It was definitely the best, and of course I didn’t do it for anything except giving books and reading a big shout out. Who knew Dollar General would give such a huge donation? Wow! I’m so glad we’re friends and like minded. 🙂

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