By Eric Coleman, Development & Communications Manager
At the 2018 Blackboard Affair, WITS is honored to recognize Dorne Eastwood with the Alter & Stone Outstanding Volunteer Award. Dorne is a former educator and Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) alum who served as both a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Director of Boundless Readers. As Executive Director, Dorne was a driving force behind the 2015 merger that brought together WITS and Boundless Readers. Today, Dorne serves as a member of the WITS Board of Directors and continues to support RLTA teachers as a Study Group Coach. Her visionary leadership helped WITS grow into an organization that supports students directly through literacy mentorship and provides thousands of hours of professional development to teachers through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award.
In 2002, after a career in the financial sector, Dorne pursued her passion for education by becoming a middle school math teacher. “When I got into my classroom, I was told that I was responsible for creating my own classroom library,” which came as a surprise. Dorne borrowed books from the classroom library of her mentor-teacher, before applying to, and receiving, the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award a year later. Dorne credits the “phenomenal” professional development that she received that summer as the beginning of her love of the RLTA program. In addition to receiving funds to build her own classroom library, Dorne learned techniques that enhanced her ability to teach reading, analysis, and interpretation to her students. Two years later, Dorne joined a RLTA Study Group to continue enhancing her classroom literacy practice and library. As a Study Group member, Dorne built camaraderie with other teachers at her school and gained “invaluable” insights into other teaching styles.
After six years of teaching middle school, Dorne joined the School of Education at Northwestern University as an instructor. In 2008, Dorne accepted the invitation to join the Boundless Readers Board of Directors, having appreciated her experience as in the RLTA program and feeling a strong connection to mission. “If [students] love the idea of reading and being read to,” said Dorne, “they’re going to want continue down that pathway and want to learn to read.” This connection, alongside the belief that teachers greatly impact the lives of students, led Dorne to answer the call in 2012 to become the Executive Director of Boundless Readers.
Dorne leveraged her experience from both the education and financial sectors to innovate and sustain the RLTA program during her time as Executive Director of Boundless Readers. During her first year, Dorne analyzed Boundless Readers and found that the organization, having provided nearly 25 years of impactful service, faced significant and unexpected financial hurtles. At this time, the strategic decision was made to fulfill all program commitments that had been made and provide uninterrupted support for teachers. Boldly, Dorne, with support of the Boundless Readers Board of Directors, began looking for another organization to become the new home of the RLTA program. With a firm conviction in the continued potential of the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award, Dorne made it her mission to “find the right merger partner, in a timely manner, so that the programs could survive.”
While a member of the Board of Directors of Boundless Readers, Dorne was part of a committee tasked with updating the organization’s mission, vision, and value statements. This process included surveying the landscape of literacy non-profit organizations in Chicago, which gave Dorne a launching point for her research on potential merger partners. Dorne joined the Chicago Literacy Alliance, volunteered “undercover” with peer organizations, and sought recommendations from within her network to narrow the scope to a few prospects, and eventually to WITS. Soon Dorne was convinced that the culture of WITS was a good fit for Boundless Readers. “I would submit that Boundless Readers and WITS have always been family and were somehow separated at birth. That our birth certificates, the Boundless Readers mission statement and WITS mission statement, were virtually verbatim was a major clue.” Shortly after, Dorne began discussions with Brenda Langstraat, WITS’ Chief Executive Officer, and eventually the WITS Board of Directors to explore the possibility of a merger.
In the fall of 2014, after months of conversations, the WITS Board of Directors voted unanimously to move forward with the intent to integrate Boundless Readers into WITS. Following a formal merger, in February of 2015, the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award found its new home in WITS. Since then, WITS has focused on setting students on a trajectory for success by building critical literacy skills and developing positive self-identity through teacher led professional development and volunteer powered mentorship programs. The merger of Boundless Reader’s into WITS was featured as part of a case study in Mergers as a Strategy for Success: 2016 Report from the Metropolitan Nonprofit Merger Research Project led by Northwestern University professor Donald Haider. The report highlighted the ease of transition and successful result of alignment in missions. “The new synergy of the combined and integrated programs provided a more holistic support approach within the classroom. It also helped volunteers obtain better professional development and a deeper understanding of student reading problems. Program quality was enhanced.”
Dorne credits the success of the WITS and Boundless Readers merger as the thing she is most proud of in career. Her impact resonates among her peers, throughout WITS, and among the countless teachers and students who have benefitted from her service. According to John Martin, former Chairman of Boundless Readers and current Treasurer of the WITS Board of Directors, “Dorne sacrificed for, and led, the organization when it needed it the most. Her commitment to literacy and the love of reading was shown by her actions and I do not believe we would be where we are today if it had not been for her.” Similarly, Diane Graham-Henry, member of the WITS Board of Directors, felt that Dorne’s “guidance through our transitions and merger with WITS was strong, understanding, and inspiring. She’s a true leader and an advocate for literacy and the future of young readers.”
Today, Dorne supports WITS’ vision to create opportunities for every student in Chicago to be literate as a member of the Board of Directors and as a RLTA Study Group Coach. She maintains a firm belief that literacy is critically important to the futures of individual students, our communities, and society at-large. Dorne wants for students to love to read. “Whether it is because of the way RLTA teachers in the classroom are introducing reading or because WITS mentors are making reading exciting for students, we have to help students want to be readers. If students love to read, we will take that big first step toward raising a literate generation.”