HARRISBURG — Floyd Stokes grew up in rural Mississippi and found out early on that learning to read was going to be an important part of his life as he got older.

“I was surrounded by a lot of people who couldn’t read,” Stokes said. “I saw the struggles.”

He says reading is the foundation of a quality education. He has read to more that 150,000 kids in the past 10 years, and his message is always the same.

“You can’t function in society if you can’t read. Some people are able to hide it, but the truth is you are better off with an education than without,” he said.

Stokes brought the 500 Men Reading effort to the region. He says it started out with 100 volunteers, but continued to grow.

He said as more men signed up over the years, it forced him to approach more school districts because he was running out of space. He approached the non-profit American Literacy Corporation to continue his work helping kids learn to read. He visited students in 25 states in 2014.

Stokes said nearly three out of 10 children of color in fourth grade in Pennsylvania are reading below level. He says getting an early start can help turn the tide.

“We focus on the younger kids to give them the love of reading, so that when they are learning to read, they are enjoying the process of reading and they are enjoying books,” he said.

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