Shaping the minds
of tomorrow's leaders

making a difference

We believe young minds are the future. Here are six building blocks making an impact.


Mentoring reflects the commitment to service, and the relationships built by our mentors are essential to our success. We have high expectations for both our student–athletes and our struggling readers that can offer a variety of rewards. More Details...


In striving for excellence, it is critical to evaluate the success of our program in a variety of ways as we strive for excellence. We visit some of our schools and community centers each year as well as solicit feedback from our educators, students, and parents. We also evaluate November and June reading test results for our young students.

book donations

We work with teachers and reading specialists in each of our schools to choose books that will engage struggling readers and also match their reading abilities. Our goal is to offer a variety of books so that our young readers will be able to choose books that feed their interests and stimulate an appetite for further reading. Last year we donated approximately eight books to each of our 529 elementary school students.

tutor training

All coaches and community center coordinators attend a workshop taught by our coordinator and one of our reading specialists. This workshop focuses on the goals and methods of the program. All student-athletes attend a one hour training session, presented by their school’s reading specialist, to communicate helpful strategies to improve the skills of our young readers.

enrichment activities

Away from the reading table, the mentors and their elementary school partners also share experiences such as attending a high school game or a family night dinner or traveling to cultural events, restaurants, bowling, movies, and other sporting events. During the last session, the mentors and reading students are rewarded with a party, and each receives a certificate of participation. Each mentor also presents his or her reading buddy with a medal of success.

team donation

Each team’s program receives a donation to defray the cost of supplies and equipment or to help pay the travel, food, and lodging expenses for a holiday tournament. Such events broaden the experience of our student athletes and can help them grow.

measurement of success

The graph below indicates the growth in our students' reading scores for each of the last seven years.

In evaluating our program, we receive feedback from our educators, student-athletes, elementary school students, and parents. We also use Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) results from the beginning and end of each school year. Each year, our students have shown significant achievement.

Each year there is a percentage of our students for whom we are unable to obtain county testing data—for instance in 2013-14, it was 12% of our students. We did not do DRA testing of our students during the first three years of our program.

Download our annual report

our history

A journey of partnerships and growth

The initial idea for the program was rooted in two commitments that Wendell Byrd emphasized in his career of over thirty years as teacher and coach: first, his work as an elementary school teacher, focusing on reading as the key to empowering students, and second, his yearly commitment to involving his basketball players in community service as a means of developing character and responsibility.

In 2003, the South Lakes High School boys’ basketball program, with financial support from the Colburn Family Foundation, developed a reading and mentoring program that brought together ninety students under the guidance of Coach Byrd, partnering with neighboring Terraset Elementary School in Reston, Virginia.

Because of the success, good will, and encouragement achieved in the first two years, Coach Byrd reached out to the broader community of Northern Virginia to share our model. Since then, we developed a partnership with Fairfax County’s community centers; and we have added both boys’ and girls’ programs including basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, and football as well as a cheerleading and National Honor Society program. Last year, we enlisted thirty-nine athletic teams from twenty-six high schools across eight counties to partner with our young students in twenty-six elementary schools and six community centers, growing to a total 1,058 high school and elementary students. Next year, we will be extending our program for the first time out of the Washington, DC metro area.

the team

We are a group of individuals dedicated to improving our communities.

Wendell Byrd

Director & Founder

Our Board of Directors


Educator, RAL Content Director


Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority


Former Principal, South Lakes High School


Former Executive Northrop Grumman


FCPS Dept of Special Services,

Intervention & Prevention


Turner, Leins & Gold, LLC


Readers Are Leaders recognizes the following sponsors for their continued support.

  • Massage Envy Spa
  • Medication Information Services
  • Northern Virginia Orthodontics
  • Reston Tree Experts
  • Turner, Leins and Gold LLC
  • Veatch Commercial Real Estate