Home Grants Financials Grantee Profiles Letter from Rodger McFarlane Letter from Tim Gill About the Gill Foundation

Overview Fair Wisconsin Education Fund Philanthropist, Linda Ketner GLAAD Legacy Fund Movement Advancement Project Pikes Peak Library

Pikes Peak Library

Dee Vasquez and Soraiya Edressi
Photo courtesy of Ray Ng

Pikes Peak Library District - All Pikes Peak Reads

Soraiya Edressi engaged in an international flurry of arrangements with her relatives and friends as she borrowed costumes for a unique fashion show celebrating the national outfits of 35 Middle Eastern national groups. As presented, the event showcased the spicy foods of the region and featured a family room exhibiting the region's stained glass and silver work, along with its famous carpets.

For Soraiya and others involved in the All Pikes Peak Reads program of the Pikes Peak Library District, the fashion show was part of a community-wide literary program that urges everyone in El Paso County to read the same book each year and uses the book to spark community-wide discussion of timely social topics.

All Pikes Peak Reads is funded by the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado and exemplifies the fund's contributions throughout the state. The fund demonstrates through its grants that gay men and lesbians are deeply involved in myriad activities that enrich society.

Gay & Lesbian Fund Executive Director Mary Lou Makepeace introduced the reading program to Colorado Springs when she was the city's mayor. Mary Lou had been to Chicago where she learned about the One Book, One Chicago program. Returning home, she talked to the Pikes Peak Library District about using the shared reading program as a community-building project. The library district, long known for innovative approaches, has stretched the program far beyond the norm in other communities.

Organizations throughout the county used the chosen book, Tales from the Arabian Nights, as a springboard for participation in myriad ancillary events. Students wrote essays about the ancient oral tales, Air Force officers recently returned from the area shared photos, experts gave lectures, and thespians mounted an original theatrical adaptation.

Soraiya, who grew up in Afghanistan and now works for Pikes Peak Community College, says the Middle Eastern fashion show was one way to use the book , to teach hundreds of residents about Muslim culture. "The media bombards the public with negative images of terrorism, fighting, and war and we tried to convey there is a positive side to this culture, with wonderful food and diversity,'' Soraiya says. "We tried to show that this is how 1.2 billion Muslim people live, and we need to learn about them and respect them."

Like other annual selections for the All Pikes Peak Reads program, the book is one with a familiar name but few people have actually read, and one that appeals to everyone from elementary school children to graduate scholars.

"It tackles really core points about Muslim culture, including universal messages about the importance of honesty in your relationships," explains Dee Vazquez, who coordinates the program for the library district.

"We've tackled some serious issues with All Pikes Peak Reads," explains Dee. "We try to pull out issues that are cogent now to people in Colorado Springs, that are bigger than the book."

In addition to activities that broaden the audience for each book, the program builds collaboration throughout the community. "It's made individuals more aware of other viewpoints and it's woven some new relationships where none previously existed," says Dee. About 25 organizations collaborate on programs including business organizations, schools, senior groups, and arts and cultural nonprofits. "It ends up being a much richer experience than just a traditional book discussion," Dee says.

Each of the books chosen in the five year tenure of the program has offered an opportunity for in-depth discussion of social issues that the entire community can engage in. To Kill a Mockingbird offered an opportunity to talk about racism and sexism. Frankenstein elicited discussion about the responsibilities humans have for what they create. Treasure Island brought up talk of rites of passage and dangers facing the young. The most recent selection, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, sparked discussion about author Lewis Carroll's life.

"It gives our faculty, students, and staff a way to be involved in the community," says Soraiya, who is on the program's steering committee. "And it's meaningful, rewarding, and fun. We look forward to it."

Gill Foundation | 2215 Market Street | Denver CO 80205 | 303-292-4455 ph | 303-292-2155 fax