On September 26th, 2013, my father, Bernard P. Williams died suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of only 58, way too young! Suddenly losing anyone close to you is dramatic and evokes many conflicting thoughts and emotions, even confusion over the days, months and years to follow. The hole left in the heart is terminal, but what becomes of the hole is a personal choice. And so in the spring of 2006, we chose to fill the hole created by an untimely death, with the birth of the The Bernard P. Williams Foundation.
The Foundation was incorporated on November 17th, 2014. In its infancy, our mission was to raise funds for a different charity every year. That year, because of family members affected by the disease, we chose to raise funds on behalf of The Prader-Willi Research Foundation. Through a very grassroots fundraising campaign, our proceeds eclipsed the $25,000 mark. Needless to say, we were pleased and the campaign put our loss in a whole new light.
Though this was an incredible feeling and a great accomplishment, I realized that this direction as a Foundation would not suffice. I was not interested in a warm fuzzy feeling but yet something specific, something tangible and something with much broader social implications! And so, due to an intense and complicated work schedule as a Golf Digest School instructor and because I was not sure of where we were going with the Foundation, the Foundation’s operations were suspended temporarily.
In the fall of 2008, my wife, Jillian and I took a leap of faith. After much reflection and prayer, I left the golf industry and we headed back to Chicago-land, where Jillian grew up and where we had met 7 years earlier. All we knew is that we were expecting little Zoë Read-no jobs, nothing-just “running on faith”. Upon arrival, I landed, though I didn’t know it at the time, the opportunity of a lifetime as a reading para-professional in an “at-risk” elementary school in Zion, IL.
This essentially meant that I worked in small groups with kindergarteners thru sixth-graders struggling with their reading. Ironically, the same line of work my father dedicated his life to, literacy. What an eye opener! First of all, I fell in love with those children! The children gave me so much more than I gave them. Amongst many other staggering revelations, the two that blew me away instantly were that there were many of our students that had NO books at home and that many, more than you care to know, came to kindergarten at age 6 not being able to recognize their name or knowing the difference between a letter and a number!
You talk about being set up for failure, this is the definition. I quickly realized my job was to address the symptoms of a very simple problem, lack of reading readiness and supportive reading materials at home. The public school system calls this “intervention”. What pained me is that all this “intervention”(fyi-for every $7 we spend on intervention, we spend $1 on prevention) was doing was keeping them afloat-these children might be “learning to read” but would probably never become “reading lovers” and therefore never be good at “reading to learn”.
Their long-time socio-economic prognosis would not be good! A little bit of “prevention”, in my mind, would go a long way. Creating “reading lovers” would not only make happier, more educated and thus more marketable people, but make are society as a whole more productive and shrink the number of people living in poverty!The rewards of my new job were unbelievable! Out of these revelations and my frustrations a specific, tangible and socially implicative direction for our Foundation was born!
The Bernard P. Williams Foundation is a “family-operated” Foundation. We, Cathy Williams, Brian Williams, Jillian Williams, Zoë Read Williams, “Little” Bernie Williams, Christy Williams, Kayla Williams, Max Williams, Lindsey Arterburn and Peter Arterburn, as well as other extended family members all play a crucial role in its vision and operation. Today, we are excited about our work thus far-In 2015, we will be donating $2,000 to Read Across America and have collected over 20,000 books for redistribution. However, we are even more excited about the work ahead-we hope you will keep close tabs on our progress and continue to be a “Foundation Friend”!