Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

Great Valley Bookfest has attracted recognition and support from community leaders, businesses, and regional news media. We’d like to use our “Literacy Hero Awards” to share that spotlight with hard-working people who promoting literacy in year-round programs. The awards were created to meet two goals:


– to recognize people who go above and beyond to promote literacy programs in our region –
– to bring media attention to the wonderful programs they support –


Do you know a real-life Literacy Hero? Please submit a nomination via our online form –  http://goo.gl/forms/ctpocizcSP


2023 Literacy Hero: Paula Sheil

Paula Sheil, a literacy arts advocate all her adult life.

Paula Sheil is the founder of Tuleburg Press, a Stockton nonprofit publishing company and The Write Place, a creative writing and books arts center. Both the parent nonprofit and the center serve all ages in pursuit of learning about “the book.” Everything about book making interests Sheil: papermaking, book binding, ink making, calligraphy, and bookbinding. Classes in these book arts are offered at The Write Place. The inspiration for the center came from 826 Valencia and the San Francisco Center for The Book, and Sheil found and developed the support needed to create an organization that offers the book arts in San Joaquin County.

Sheil teaches creative writing classes (memoir and poetry) at the center, and teaches composition and poetry at San Joaquin Delta College, where she is a full-time professor of English. She has been a publisher since 1996, when she and the late Julia Holzer launched ZamBomba!, a poetry journal that reached audiences from Seattle to San Diego. Before joining the Delta faculty, she was a features writer for The Record and wrote on a wide variety of topics including seniors, children, family, pets, home décor, fashion, food veterans, medicine, and education. In addition to writing, she mentored freelance writers as the editor of monthly sections for seniors, Vintage,  and for parents, SJParenting. At Delta College she launched the Writers’ Guild and the college literary magazine, Artifact, a publication that is still going strong under the name Artifact Nouveau.

Publishing is one of the main activities of Tuleburg Press. With a dozen books in its catalog since the founding in 2013, the press has a two-month open submission period from September 1 through October 31. Tuleburg Press’ mission is to find, mentor and support local writers who write about life in the San Joaquin Valley, much in the way Heyday Press in Berkeley is focused on works about California. Work in any genre is encouraged, and the press has published both fiction and nonfiction: novels, poetry, history, children’s books, and recently a poetry anthology called Center of Attention: Poems on Stockton & San Joaquin.

Sheil supports and participates in bi-monthly writing sessions with accomplished writers to maintains her own craft. Recently one of her poems, “Stone Stone,” was accepted by the Sacramento Poetry Centers publication, The Tule Review, guest edited by Susan Kelly-DeWitt.

Sheil has been an arts advocate all her adult life, serving on Stockton Arts Commission and the Stockton Arts Foundation. The San Joaquin Commission  on the Status of Women awarded her a Susan B. Anthony Medal in the Literary Arts.


2023 Literacy Hero: Jim Sterling

Reading and literacy influenced Jim Sterling’s life and career.

A highlight of Jim Sterling’s 3rd grade year in school, growing up in a small Ohio town in the 1940s, was when Stark County’s mobile library bus arrived.  It meant the chance to return scores of well-read books and stock up on new adventures.

That background led him to take the lead in forming the Friends of the Empire Branch of the Stanislaus County Free Library when he retired from teaching 15 years ago. Though he’s no longer directly involved, that group has moved from strength to strength with annual used book sales, literacy events for students of all ages, and an adult book club.

He taught 3rd grade for 10 years at the end of a career that was always involved in journalism, writing, and reading in one way or another.

When he made a career change into teaching, he chose 3rd grade. His reason:  he was told that the state of California — in its long-range planning for penal institutions – factored in the percentage of 3rd grade students who were in serious trouble with reading and comprehension. That’s when he decided he wanted to teach 3rd grade.

Prior to his 10-year career as  a 3rd grade teacher at Coleman Brown Elementary School (Sylvan Union School District), in Modesto, he volunteered as a literacy tutor for a program coordinated through the Stanislaus Country Free Library.

Today, Sterling is a retired elementary school teacher with experience in adult education re-training programs, journalism, and newswriting.  He still campaigns for enhanced programs to boost reading and literacy at every opportunity.

His service as the State Chair of Communication and Technology for the 35,000-member CalRTA (California Retired Teachers Association), kept him in touch with programs supporting teachers and school libraries by CalRTA’s 86 divisions statewide.  The organization supports classroom teachers across a spectrum of educational efforts with literacy being a high priority.

He is a past president of Friends of the Library – Empire, a past president of CalRTA – Stanislaus, a past member of the Community Advisor Board of KUOP – National Public Radio, a past Chair of the Modesto Children’s Crisis Center, and a past president of the New Zealand Guild of Agricultural Journalists.





2021 Literacy Hero: Jeanette Farley

Jeanette Farley of Manteca was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.  Jeannette is a longtime Manteca resident who has tireless energy.

She has served as director and longtime volunteer at the Manteca Museum and Manteca Historical Society.

Jeanette is a dedicated volunteer for Friends of the Library, and she regularly volunteers her time to help organize and assist at used book sales for the Manteca Library.

She served as volunteer tutor in the TEACH program for Give Every Child a Chance (an after-school mentoring program for local youth), and she helped the Great Valley Writing Project extend their outreach into Lathrop by promoting GVWP Writing Camps, (another nonprofit program for educational enrichment).

She provided support for the mural projects in downtown Manteca and was honored by Manteca Mayor’s Committee on the Arts. She regularly volunteers to assist with community festivals and events that raise funds for education and youth programs.

Jeanette continues in her role as the Volunteer Coordinator for Great Valley Bookfest. Her efforts were critical to resurrecting this popular event after the Covid-19 shutdowns.

Jeanette is an unsung hero who keeps numerous programs running in the Manteca-Lathrop communities – she steps up whenever she sees something that needs to be done.





2020 Literacy Hero: Karol Eisenbeis

Karol Eisenbeis of Ceres was recently honored by leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest with the Literacy Hero Award.

Eisenbeis, an Intervention teacher at Joel J. Hidahl Elementary School, never tires of learning something new in order to positively impact student learning. In all her teaching assignments from first grade to sixth grade, from coaching to consulting, during school or on her own time, she actively pursues her goal of literacy for all. While teaching full-time, she leads after-school writing clubs, coding and math clubs. She advocates for quality professional opportunities for her colleagues. Eisenbeis exclaims, “If you imagine it you can plan it and achieve it!”

And imagine it she did. During her early years of teaching, Eisenbeis latched onto reciprocal teaching, a discussion technique that really helps students improve reading comprehension. Reciprocal teaching is something she never let go of because it works. Reciprocal Teaching, the subject of her masters thesis, is a major focus of her intervention work with striving readers. She continues to deepen her experience with what works for her students, and knows not to abandon effective practices even when distance learning disrupts the routine.

A major part of her leadership work begins after school. While teaching full-time at Hidahl Elementary School, Eisenbeis leads book clubs, writing clubs, math, and coding clubs. In 2018 she received a grant to fund “Fab Four to the Reading Rescue.” The grant funds helped her develop and implement a cross-age tutoring program for her school. Eisenbeis is eager to help students discover their leadership skills while instilling the joy of reading and writing. According to Eisenbeis, “Students are the key to helping younger students discover the joy of reading and writing.” When leading a workshop, book study, or writing camp for young scholars, Karol’s goal is to foster independent readers and writers who through choice develop his or her own voice.

Karol champions teacher education and enrichment. In 2018 she merged the San Joaquin and the Stanislaus Counties’ Reading Associations. She and the rest of the SJSRA board design creative and inspiring professional development for teachers to take away practical techniques and inspiration to fuel their own literacy campaigns sparking the fire to read. She knows that teachers need to continue to grow in order to know what works for all young scholars.

In 2020 Karol was elected vice president of The California Reading Association. She is chairing the 53rd annual conference, the first virtual conference for CRA. This year’s theme is Text Meets Tech. The November 13-14, 2020 conference has everything literacy leaders need such as award-winning authors, inspiring keynotes, and dynamic presenters who demonstrate the most effective practices for literacy and digital learning. Designing professional development fuels her passion for literacy for all. When asked why, after teaching for twenty years, she seeks professional development opportunities for herself and others? She emphatically states, “If a student isn’t learning, I need to change what I’m doing.” A teacher is a coach who builds on strengths and supports new learning!”

Teaching young scholars brings her great joy, and teaching pre-service teachers is equally rewarding. Teachers are so eager to learn how to become teachers of writers. Karol teaches preservice teachers to start by writing and that puts them into the writing mindset. Teachers often don’t think of themselves as writers. At Great Valley Writing Project teacher consultants like Eisenbeis work hard to change that mindset!

When asked about her own professional learning network—and who or what influences her most, Eisenbeis responded. “The Great Valley Writing Project’s Summer Invitational Institute was hands down the most sustaining and inspirational professional development I’ve ever encountered!” “Why GVWP?” we asked. “So I could learn how to teach emerging writers. Teaching writing was the subject area I had always felt the least prepared, a common teacher lament.” Not only did she learn ways to teach writing-or rather teach writers. She became a writer herself. Karol credits GVWP as being a place where teachers create a career path that fosters life-long learning and excellence through experience. During the last eight years, Karol has enjoyed creating workshops for new teachers, summer writing camps for young scholars, and leading professional book studies for teachers. Great Valley Writing Project’s teachers-teaching-teachers philosophy keeps students at the center.

Throughout her twenty-two year career, Eisenbeis has received recognition for her dedication and leadership. In 2006, She received the honor of Teacher of the Year for Robert Adkison Elementary School. In 2003 Karol and her colleagues at Virginia Parks Elementary School earned the National Blue Ribbon School Award. But the best reward of all is seeing the joy in a child’s face when they have those “I did it–Ah ha moments. When asked if she is ready to retire, Karol Eisenbeis quips, “I’ve only just begun. I will not be satisfied with my life’s work until all the students at Hidahl are reading at grade level and above.” Karol’s ultimate professional goal is to continue working with teacher leaders to make a wider impact on literacy for all.


 2020 Literacy Hero: Lori Mariano

Lori Mariano is a literacy intervention teacher in Ceres Unified School District whose passion for reading has made her a leader at her school, her district, and throughout the region.  In the midst of the 2020 pandemic, she was quietly honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.

Mariano has been a primary classroom teacher for over twenty years, a literacy coach, and a teacher consultant for the Great Valley Writing Project. She has served as an instructor at Great Valley Demonstration Labs, planning and leading classroom instruction in a lab setting where she modeled and coached best professional practices for primary-grade teachers. In addition, Lori currently serves as secretary for the San Joaquin-Stanislaus Reading Association, working collaboratively with fellow colleagues to provide professional development and resources for teachers in our area.

Third-grade teacher Heather Dabney of Ceres credits Mariano as a mentor. “Lori is an inspirational teacher who excels in spreading the joy of literacy,” says Dabney. “When Lori leads a reading training, we all walk away as stronger reading teachers, with tools that can be implemented the next day, and a greater love for igniting the passion for reading.”

In 2014, Lori was awarded the American Literacy Corporation award for her contributions to literacy. In 2019, she was awarded the CTA Bell Award by her peers because of her dedication to assist and collaborate with others to strive for highly effective classroom practices. Always seeking to better assist her students through her own lifelong growth and study, Mariano is on track to complete a Master’s Degree in Reading with a Reading Specialist credential in the Spring of 2021.

Her passion is promoting a positive literacy culture in her school community. Inspired by Dr. Steven Layne’s book, A Passion for Reading, she started a “Spark the Fire to Read” campaign at her school. Through her leadership, the campaign promotes a positive culture of literacy with simple, yet powerful ways to instill a love of reading. From morning Hot Reads to Literacy Night, from classroom libraries to the book vending machine, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, reading is at the forefront of school-wide focus. The movement continues to grow on her site and has spread to several other campuses.

Lori is committed to find ways for children to have more books in their homes. She has been recognized for her efforts in bringing a book vending machine to her campus in 2019 as part of the Spark the Fire campaign.  The project is ongoing and successfully filling more homes with books for children to read.  Lori works closely with the community outreach team at the Stanislaus County library organizing multiple events throughout the school year to put books in the hands of children and encourage families to visit the library.

“Lori inspires others and brings them along in her journey,” says second-grade teacher Tonya Heath of Manteca, a long-time collaborator who also views Mariano as a role model. “Lori is one of the only people I know who remembers all the little details of the stories she collects from her students in everyday learning. She holds her students close to her heart and saves their stories, struggles, and successes, and she builds on them in her next lessons. This passion, creativity, and compassion for her students makes her a special teacher and sets her apart as a Literacy Hero.”





2019 Literacy Hero: Pat Portwood

Pat Portwood of Turlock was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.

Portwood has dedicated her life to literacy and learning. During her 35-year career as a teacher, principal, and district administrator (including more than 20 years with Modesto City Schools), Portwood has positively influenced the education of thousands of students.

When she retired in 2010, she did not slow down. For the past nine years, Pat Portwood has played a very active role in promoting literacy in the central valley.

In 2012, Portwood joined the Stanislaus Library Foundation, which raises funds for all thirteen libraries in Stanislaus County. From 2013-2018, she served as chairperson for the Library Foundation, and she continues to serve as vice-chair. She has been instrumental in raising thousands of dollars each year to support library youth summer reading programs – programs which would not exist without those funds.

In 2017, Portwood co-chaired the committee to pass Measure S, the “Save Stanislaus Libraries” initiative. She spent many days and evenings making informative presentations about library services at numerous service clubs and organizations throughout Stanislaus county. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Portwood and other volunteers, the measure to secure library funding for an additional 12 years passed by more than 80%.

Portwood has long been an active member of the Friends of the Turlock Library, currently serving as Vice President for that group. She helps to organize the library’s annual book sale and to raise funds for library programs. She also devotes many hours to support the process of building a new Turlock Library.

In addition to her work with schools and libraries, Pat Portwood supports lifelong learning for adults. She is an active member of the Tuesday Women’s Reading Club in Turlock.

She is also active in the Turlock-Modesto branch of the American Association of University Women. In 2017, she received the Outstanding Women Award from the Stanislaus County Commission for Women.

“During her long career and throughout her retirement, Pat Portwood has supported literacy for all ages,” commented Melissa King, who chairs the award committee. “We agree that she is an outstanding woman, and we are lucky to have her among us. We are proud to recognize her as one our region’s Literacy Heroes.”


2019 Literacy Hero: Ann Johnston

Ann Johnston of Stockton was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.
Johnston, a Stockton businesswoman, is very active in her community. From 2009 until 2013, she served as the city’s mayor.
In 2011, during her tenure as mayor, Johnston began gathering financial support from local service clubs, public agencies, and private companies to launch the “Read to Me, Stockton!” program, an early-childhood literacy program that conducts parent workshops and sends a free book each month to registered infants, toddlers, and preschool children.
Working with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Read to Me, Stockton! purchases top-quality children’s books at just $2.00 each and has them mailed to local children.
Children under the age of five are eligible to be in the program. Once enrolled, the child receives a free book in the mail every month. The high-quality, age-appropriate books are addressed to the child and delivered to them by the Dollywood Foundation. There is no cost or income restriction for families who wish to participate.
Johnston serves as both the program administrator and the president of the nonprofit organization. Her genuine concern and her leadership abilities have been vital to the program’s success.
Over the years, Johnston has doggedly pursued funding to expand this early literacy program. At the start, the organization was able to send books to children in only two zip code zones, but in 2018, due in part to Johnson’s persistent efforts, Read to Me, Stockton! secured enough funding to register children in all eight of the major zip codes in her community.
Since 2011, more than 300,000 books have been mailed to more than 15,000 children in Stockton.
Johnston has also forged partnerships with public schools and libraries to provide meetings and training sessions with parents to encourage them and help them to read to their children.
“Research has shown that the two most important factors contributing to a child’s success in school are reading aloud and parental involvement,” says Johnston. “It has been proven that the more books there are in a home, the more grades a child will complete in school. Too many young children don’t have books at home, so this program is a great way to get them started.”
“The Bookfest leadership team was impressed and inspired by the investment Ms. Johnston has made in the lives of local children,” commented Melissa King, who chairs the award committee. “It is our great pleasure to recognize her among our region’s Literacy Heroes.”
To learn more about Read to Me, Stockton!, or to sign up, go to www.readtomestockton.org

2019 Literacy Hero: Annie Cunial

Annie Cunial Honored as Literacy Hero

Annie Cunial of Manteca was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.

In 1992, Cunial began her career as a classroom teacher. During her years in the classroom, she worked with a wide variety of students, teaching primary grades, junior high, high school, & even adult ESL.

Cunial then spent ten years as a program coordinator at Golden West and French Camp schools in Manteca, where she developed, implemented, and managed new after-school tutoring programs. She is fondly remembered as a knowledgeable and approachable administrator who was always willing to help her colleagues.

For the past eight years, Cunial has worked at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. As Coordinator of Student Events, she organized the county and state Spelling Bees, Academic Decathlon, Academic Pentathlon, Mock Trial, and other events. She currently serves as a director of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

From 2015 to 2018, she served as an influential member of Great Valley Bookfest’s leadership committee. Working as a liaison between the Bookfest committee and school districts in San Joaquin county, Cunial helped to disseminate information and materials for year-round outreach and events. Her efforts heightened public awareness about Bookfest programs and increased annual attendance.

In 2015, Cunial organized the Bookfest’s “Sip and Spell” Spelling Bee, where teams of adults are challenged to spell words like “chrestomathy,” “glissando,” and “pulchritude” while sipping fine local wines. (Who knew that a spelling bee could be so fun and entertaining?) The event was a huge success, and it is now an annual tradition.

In 2016, Cunial introduced the now-popular “Spelling Challenge” booth at the Bookfest, inviting spellers of all ages and backgrounds to flex their skills in a playful environment. She devoted countless hours planning special features and collecting prizes to make these events memorable and entertaining for all involved.

Events like these reflect her fun-filled approach to education. “It’s important not only to promote literacy, but also to recognize and celebrate it – which is what the Great Valley Bookfest does.” says Cunial. “I love being involved with groups like this: spending time with like-minded people, coming together to provide something positive to our community.”

Cunial has a long history as a community volunteer. In addition to her work for the Bookfest, she has volunteered time to support Calla 4-H, Sierra High School, St. Anthony’s Church, the Stockton Symphony Education Committee, and the Leadership Stockton Alumni Association, just to name a few.

“In her hometown and throughout San Joaquin county, Annie Cunial has diligently worked to promote and celebrate literacy,” commented Melissa King, who chairs the award committee. “Her unfailing efforts to help students succeed, to help teachers reach their full potential, and to assist community programs that support education have made a real difference in our region, so it is our great pleasure to recognize her as a Literacy Hero.”





2018 Literacy Hero: Keith Boggs

Keith Boggs of Oakdale was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented him with their Literacy Hero Award.

In 1999, Keith Boggs developed a mentor program to address Stanislaus County’s dropout rate of 23.6%, which was one of the highest for the state of California. He initiated a community-driven solution to combat apathy and hopelessness caused by gaps in academic skills, low self-esteem, lack of role models, emotional detachment, and/or language barriers.

In the first year of the program, 30 employees of Stanislaus County started mentoring. Last year, 188 mentors worked in teams to provide over 2,500 hours of youth mentoring.

The Stanislaus County mentoring program uses a team-based approach to help volunteers balance their busy schedules. Teams are comprised of as many as three individuals, so volunteers can rotate their mentor days and provide backup when someone has an unexpected scheduling conflict, ensuring that their young protégé consistently receives visits twice a week.

The program has grown in large part due to participation from partner organizations. Over the years, Boggs has forged working partnerships with other local agencies, including city governments (Hughson and Modesto), the Stanislaus County Office of Education, and Modesto Junior College. He has also developed partnerships with community organizations like the 500 Lions Club, Modesto Rotary, and City Ministries.

In addition to his volunteer role, Keith Boggs is the Assistant Chief Executive Officer for Stanislaus County. In spite of his heavy workload, Boggs has remained the champion and guiding force of the Employee Mentoring effort, serving as a mentor himself and contributing enormous amounts of his personal time to the program.

“The Bookfest leadership team was impressed and inspired by this mentoring program and the investment Mr. Boggs has made in the lives of local children,” commented Melissa King, who chairs the award committee. “It is our great pleasure to recognize him among our region’s Literacy Heroes.”

Now celebrating the completion of its twentieth year, the Stanislaus County Employee Mentor program continues to attract employees and partner organizations who wish to give back and become involved in the lives of young people in Stanislaus County. Anyone wishing to volunteer as a mentor can apply online: www.employeementors.com

 2018 Literacy Hero: Jeanne Pollard

Jeanne Pollard is a retired teacher who has spent her life promoting literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus county. She was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.

During her years as an teacher, she was recognized as a knowledgeable and well-respected professional. She was always willing to help her colleagues, and she always seemed to know just the right book to enrich a lesson or inspire a reluctant reader.

Since her retirement, Jeanne has become very active in the Friends of the Library, working to increase public awareness of library needs and to build community support. Her efforts have helped bring many cultural and educational programs to the Manteca Library.

In addition to her support of the public library, Jeanne was the first person in Manteca to set up a “Little Free Library” – a nationwide movement where book lovers build a weathertight bookshelf facing the sidewalk and fill it with books to entice neighborhood children to read. Jeanne has helped many others set up their own Little Free Library stands, and she can attest to the fact that local children love to visit these stands to borrow books.

Jeanne recognizes the critical importance of reading not only for the young, but also for the elderly and housebound. She recently helped sort through the library at Prestige Senior Living to make the books more organized and accessible.

She has been a key member of the Great Valley Bookfest committee since 2012, when she volunteered to organize and manage a used book sale at the very first Bookfest. Thanks to her colossal efforts, the used book sale has become a wildly popular venue at this annual event.

The used book sale places easily affordable books in the hands of avid readers – and also into the hands of teachers, who are encouraged to buy deeply discounted bags of books for their classrooms. Jeanne makes a special effort to share books with new teachers who are just starting their careers, helping them build classroom libraries to help their students to get hooked on reading.

She works tirelessly preparing for the annual book sale, collecting and organizing books year-round – and the sale gets bigger every year. This year, Jeanne and her team have collected and categorized over 28,000 books!

Proceeds from the sale benefit the Friends of the Library. Since 2012, the book sale has generated over $10,000, which has helped pay for many special programs and library materials. When you consider that those funds have been collected in nickels, dimes, and quarters, it’s a very impressive accomplishment!

“During her career and throughout her retirement, Jeanne Pollard has diligently worked to promote literacy for all ages,” commented Melissa King, who chairs the award committee. “Her enthusiasm for books and her willingness to helping others is truly inspiring. It is our great pleasure to recognize her among our region’s Literacy Heroes.”


 2018 Literacy Hero: Carol Davis

Carol Davis believes that everyone should strive to make a positive difference in the life of a child.For her own work with children and youth, she was recently honored by the leaders of the Great Valley Bookfest, who presented her with their Literacy Hero Award.

In the year 2000, after a 20-year career working for Kaiser Permanente, Davis retired to join the staff of Give Every Child A Chance (GECAC), where she could pursue her dream of changing lives by helping children succeed in school.

She devoted the next sixteen years to her role as President/CEO for GECAC, and under her leadership, the program expanded dramatically. Starting with a budget of $89,000 in 2000-2001, she organized an endless variety of fundraising events, so that by the time she retired in 2016, the program budget had increased to just under $2,500,000.

Davis worked hard to ensure that the money was spent wisely, increasing both the quantity and the quality of the programs. In 1998, GECAC offered services to just 69 youth; during the 2014/2015 school year, the program served over 4,500 students.

Davis has also supported literacy and youth programs in many other ways. She served on the Board of Directors for Manteca’s Boys and Girls Club from 1997 through 2004. She was a founding member of Manteca Unified Student Trust. She has been an active member of the Manteca Sunrise Kiwanis Club for 15 years, and she has volunteered at River Island Technology Academy since 2016, working in the classroom with students who struggle with reading.

She was also one of the founding committee members for the Great Valley Bookfest, helping to create and manage the annual bookmark design competition, organizing the catering for the annual author’s reception, and assisting at the Bookfest information booth.

In 2004 Davis was recognized by the California State Legislature as the 2004 Woman of the Year (for the 26th District), and in 2011, she was recognized by the California State Senate as the 2011 Woman of the Year (for the 5th Senatorial District).

“It’s been seven years since Carol Davis was recognized by California leaders,” commented Melissa King, who chairs the award committee. “We think it’s time for her to be recognized and thanked by the large community of nonprofit program leaders and volunteers who have been supported and inspired by this hardworking Literacy Hero.”




2017 Literacy Hero: Carol Costa Minner

Carol Costa Minner, director of the Great Valley Writing Project for the past 16 years, is a dairyman’s daughter and lifelong Tracyite. She taught middle-school language arts for 33 years at Jefferson School in rural Tracy. She is a product of Tracy schools and California State University, Hayward (B.S. and teaching credential). And she is proud, she says, of the impact GVWP leaders and
advocates are having in dozens of Central California schools. At Jefferson, in addition to her classroom duties, Carol mentored novice teachers, coached sports and was faculty advisor for the student council, the yearbook and the California Junior Scholarship Federation. She facilitated development of a school-wide portfolio assessment and created a district writing policy. Off campus,
Carol was a reader for the California Assessment Program, California Learning Assessment System and the Golden State Writing Exam. She was named California League of Middle School’s “Teacher of the Year” for
Region 6 in 2001. Early in her teaching career, Carol discovered the Bay Area Writing Project
(BAWP) — a network of “teachers teaching teachers” — at UC Berkeley. She was accepted to BAWP’s Invitational Summer Institute and studied under UC Teacher Ed. Professor Jim Gray, BAWP’s founder and progenitor of the National Writing Project. Carol’s mentor and inspiration was Mary Hurdlow, a primary teacher, whose love of children’s literature, especially picture books, spurred Carol to try a variety of books as models for her eighth-grade students. She frequented
libraries and bookstores to find quality picture books to guide her “young writers” as they authored and illustrated their own ABC and wordless books for kindergartners through fourth graders. “Their books were very popular with younger students and inspired them to be ‘authors,’ too,” Carol says. During her years as a teacher consultant for BAWP (and subsequently the California and National Writing Projects), Carol facilitated professional development programs for teachers throughout Northern California, taught at
young writers camps and coordinated the Saturday Seminar program at UC Berkeley.
Farther afield, she led on-site professional development programs for bilingual teachers in Monterrey, Mexico, and San Jose, Costa Rica, and facilitated the drafting of a K-12 writing curriculum on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona.
She served on the James Moffett Memorial Award committee and the National Writing Project State and Regional Network Leadership Team. In 1996, Carol began working as a consultant with the Great Valley Writing Project
at Cal State Stanislaus. Five years later, Mary Ann Smith, executive director of the California Writing Project, selected her to lead GVWP.
More than 800 teachers and administrators and 400 students and their families  participate directly in GVWP programs annually. Carol has supported teacher consultants to lead family writing nights, student writing camps and professional book studies at their school sites. GVWP offers conferences, Saturday Seminars and Invitational Leadership Institutes for teachers. GVWP partners with the Migrant Education Program to provide four-week summer writing academies. In
2005, Carol organized the English Learners Symposium at CSU Stanislaus for teachers and Mini-Corps students. In 2007, GVWP received the Golden Apple Award for outstanding service to San Joaquin County educators.

Carol has served on the board of Give Every Child A Chance in Tracy, was a project leader for the Jefferson 4-H Club and is a 35-year volunteer for the Children’s Home Society of California. She has been president of the
Tracy Sister City Association since 2012 and has chaperoned student delegations to Japan. She resides in Tracy with her husband, Larry. They have two children: Carly, an attorney in Honolulu, and Rob, a landscape
architect in Walnut Creek.

2017 Literacy Hero: Maureen Minnehan Jones

Maureen Minnehan Jones is a registered nurse, author, and speaker who lives in Oakdale, California. In 2012, she was invited to participate in a new festival designed to excite interest in reading and provide support for local authors. She immediately asked, “What can I do to help?”

Since that time, Maureen has worked hard to make the Great Valley Bookfest a huge success. From the outset, she invested many hours helping the nonprofit team find and enlist authors. In 2015, she became the chairperson of the Bookfest Authors’ Committee, bringing in increasingly well-known authors each year.

As the main contact for featured authors, Maureen responds to dozens of inquiries from interested writers. She helps to coordinate schedules and equipment needs for the various presentation stages, and she communicates information with each author, handling an endless flurry of questions and concerns during the weeks leading up to the Bookfest.

At the annual festival, Maureen and her husband Jerry arrive early to help set up tents, signs, and equipment. She fields questions from authors, double-checks preparations at each stage, and makes sure the event runs smoothly. At the end of the long day, she and her husband help to dismantle the festival.

Soon after the event is completed, Maureen helps to administer and interpret participant surveys, and before winter sets in, she starts helping to plan the following year’s Bookfest.

Bookfest founder Toni Raymus sings her praises. “Maureen Minnehan Jones provides stable, solid leadership for our authors’ committee, and she offers sensible, perceptive input to guide decisions. She has a positive, can-do attitude, tackling problems head-on. She has been a key factor in the Bookfest’s success.”

2017 Literacy Hero: Lesley Fontanilla

Lesley Fontanilla was born and raised in Stockton. College took her away for a few years, but Stockton was, and will always be, Lesley’s home.

Growing up, Lesley was an avid reader, which she attributes to her family. “My brothers and I developed a love of reading mostly from our mom, who has been a library card-carrying patron for the majority of her life!” says Lesley. “My dad, too, was a reader. He kept a set of Encyclopedia Britannica in our family room for himself, but he shared them with us. As we got older he bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias for us kids. I spent many happy afternoons exploring those books, just for the fun of it!”

Going to the Stockton Public Library was a weekly event for her family. “We participated in the library’s Summer Reading Program every year. When the Bookmobile was parked in our neighborhood, we were there!” she remembers. “I knew every nook and cranny of that library; it was one of my happy places! I would find an author that I liked at the library and I would read all of his/her work… I still read that way!” With these happy memories to look back upon, it is no surprise that Lesley became a teacher and an advocate for literacy.

Since 1990, Lesley has been an educator with Manteca Unified School District. Between stints as an elementary classroom teacher, she has served in various leadership roles. As a Staff Development Leader and Literacy Trainer, Lesley worked with a team of teachers to develop and create effective, research-based staff development for 4th-6th grade teachers throughout the district. As a Reading & Academic Coach at French Camp Elementary School, Lesley was part of a team that was charged with improving that school’s state testing scores, which, during 2 years of intensive and challenging work, the staff and students successfully achieved! Currently working as the Program Coordinator for French Camp School, Lesley works with administrators and teachers to provide guidance and support in classroom instruction; she analyzes assessment data to find information that can help promote growth; she provides teacher and student support in the area of English Language Development; and she coordinates and supports interventions to promote success for all students.

Lesley loves her work. “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism,” she quips, quoting educator Colleen Wilcox, adding, “As a teacher, you just can’t resist the ‘light bulb moments’ – those very special moments when your students make the connection, understand something for the first time, or swell with pride from an achievement.”

Lesley spends many evenings, weekends, and vacation periods working as an advocate for effective instructional practices for teachers. She has been a Professional Development Presenter for “Pathways to Literacy,” the nation’s oldest professional development conference for educators. From 1997-2000, Lesley served as director of the California Reading & Literature Project at CSU Stanislaus, leading a team that offered in-depth professional development to teachers throughout Stanislaus, Calaveras, and San Joaquin Counties. Lesley also works part-time as an adjunct faculty member in the department of Teacher Education at CSU Stanislaus.

Despite her busy schedule, Lesley finds time for volunteer work, working to support programs and opportunities for readers of all ages in her community. She started her volunteer work at the Stockton-San Joaquin Library as a volunteer tutor for the Adult Literacy Program, working one-on-one with adults who could not read. In 2008, Lesley joined the Board of Directors of the Library and Literacy Foundation for San Joaquin County, a non-profit organization tasked with overseeing and managing an endowment to support and enhance library services in the City of Stockton. From 2010-2014, Lesley served as President of the Board of Directors for the Foundation; doubling as chairperson of the Foundation’s annual fundraising event – The Trivia Bee. Although she left the Board of Directors in 2014, she remains active in the Foundation, continuing to serve as co-chair of the Trivia Bee, ensuring that the Foundation has the funds needed to promote literacy programs and events throughout San Joaquin County. In addition, Lesley is a driving force behind another annual literacy event; she plays a large part in acquiring the children’s books that the Foundation hands out to children who visit the Library and Literacy Foundation booth at Family Day in the Park. Over the years, the Foundation has handed out thousands of free books to children at this event.

When asked why she invests so much of her time to literacy programs, Lesley shares a favorite quote from Oscar Wilde: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it.” She explains further: “The ability to read and write are the keys that open all the doors. And those doors are everywhere – school, work, community, life! That is why having a literate society is so important!”

At her school, in her hometown, and throughout the region, Lesley Fontanilla has spent her adult life working to bring literacy to the forefront. She truly believes that helping students to become readers and writers, helping teachers to become better teachers of literacy, and supporting community programs that advocate for a literate society are essential factors in creating a world that is hopeful, caring, and united.



BRETT ASHMUN, recipient of the 2016 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Brett Ashmun
Brett Ashmun is a 34-year-old educator who makes a real difference in the lives of those around him. As a faculty member at Stanislaus State and a consultant for the Great Valley Writing Project, he motivates and inspires learning by building genuine connections with human beings.
Brett cares deeply about others. In 2006, he volunteered with AmeriCorps NCCC and spent ten months providing relief to flood victims and tutoring in after school programs. His experiences in AmeriCorps had a major impact on his life, and it shaped the way he develops curriculum and the way he teaches in the classroom.
Instead of teaching memorization of facts and ideas, Ashmun focuses on improving the quality and the long-term impact of each learning experience. His lessons ask students to think and act through rousing real-life situations. Because positive relationships can dramatically increase motivation and learning, he pushes his students to form meaningful relationships with educators, with their peers, and with their community.
The students in Ashmun’s English composition course learn that writing is a community-based activity that can bridge differences in age, experiences, and perspectives. During the last school year, he took his students to a nearby nursing home to write poems about the residents, partnered them with fifth grade students to help them view their assignment through younger eyes, and introduced them to administrators at a homeless shelter to help them address serious issues with more awareness and sensitivity.
Many of his students volunteered to work beyond their writing assignments. Last year’s students organized a fund-raiser to support the “We Care” emergency shelter and support services for the homeless.
His teaching practices might seem radical, but most of his methods are based on educational philosophies and research that have been advocated by educational reformers for 150 years.
Ashmun believes that teaching students the importance of community, relationships, citizenship, and civility provides hope for a better future, and based on their responses, it seems that his students find hope as well.
CHARLIE HALFORD, recipient of the 2016 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Charles (Charlie) Halford has lived in the greater Manteca/Lathrop area all his life and has been involved with numerous activities that have improved our community.
Charlie is a 1972 graduate of East Union High School; he received a BA degree in Criminal Justice from Cal State Sacramento in 1976. He then graduated from the Police Academy and became a USMC Certified Marksman. He had a long and distinguished career in the police force, earning two letters of commendation, the Manteca Police Officer of the Year award, and the Meritorious Service Award for rescuing two children in a fire. In 1991, he graduated from the FBI Academy, and from 1997-2007, he served as Chief of Police.
Time is very valuable for Charlie, but he is more than generous in his volunteer capacity. He has served as an officer or on the Board of Directors for many nonprofit agencies, including: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Manteca/Lathrop, United Way of San Joaquin County, Doctors Hospital of Manteca; Give Every Child A Chance, and Great Valley Bookfest. He has served on innumerable committees to address the needs of local youth and families, and he is an active member of the Manteca Rotary.
From its inception, Charlie has been an invaluable member of the Great Valley Bookfest leadership team. Without his expertise and boundless energy, this event could never have achieved such rapid growth and popular success. As the Chairman of the Event Planning and Logistics committee, he is a central figure: advising the committee on legal regulations, traffic flow, and safety issues; negotiating many of the permits required for the event; organizing and supervising the early morning set-up for dozens of tents and trucks. He never hesitates to help in smaller ways, too – posting advertising signs, contacting community partners for donations, or just running errands.
This year, Charlie had to miss the Bookfest event because of a family wedding… but he did not leave anything to chance. He worked diligently from January through October and did everything possible to ensure that the 2016 Bookfest ran smoothly.
Charles Halford’s efforts have significantly transformed the Manteca/Lathrop community into a friendlier, more vibrant, and better-educated community – and that makes him a true Literacy Hero.
VERAY WICKHAM, recipient of the 2016 Literacy Hero Award
Each and every day, ordinary people do extraordinary things to promote literacy in our communities. With these awards, we celebrate the selfless acts of three regional heroes who champion the cause of literacy in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Veray Wickham
Veray Wickham was born in Ohio, but like so many families after WWII, she moved to California in 1955, settling down in San Joaquin County in 1960. She likes to quote JK Rowling: “Wherever I am, if I’ve got a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy.”
A proud bookworm and history geek, Veray has been passionate about literacy in all its broad forms since childhood. Pouring over an encyclopedia and atlas with her dad as a child to anxiously awaiting the next Harry Potter book as an adult, she surrounds her life with the joy of reading every day.
As Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of San Joaquin from 1990-96, she trained volunteer coordinators and recruited volunteers for non-profit organizations throughout San Joaquin County, including a wide variety of programs designed to encourage literacy in people of all ages.
As Community Involvement Coordinator at San Joaquin County Office of Education, Veray managed a wide variety of grants that engaged educators in connecting their students, kindergarten through higher education, to their communities. She was the Regional Lead for a five county area providing resources for educators engaged in Service Learning, a teaching strategy that uses service projects that directly connect with classroom curriculum goals. Many service activities centered on improving reading levels in students. Older students reading with younger ones not only helped the tutee, but dramatically increased the reading level of the tutors.
The joy for Veray was being able to connect her love of reading to her passion for history. Her assignment as Regional History/Social Studies Lead and the Congressional District Coordinator for the Center for Civic Education provided her a view of the power of challenging students to a higher level of historic literacy.  Not only did these students know what The Federalist Papers are but could quote and argue them!  Obviously they and their teachers would appreciate Harper Lee’s quote “The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one that makes you think.”
Writing, being the flip-side of reading on the literacy coin, requires the ability to spell! Veray has been the San Joaquin County Spelling Bee Spell Master for 15+ years. It has been an adventure to learn tricky pronunciations, keep saying the word exactly the same numerous times in a row, and smiling kindly at the kids on shaky legs when first up to the podium.
Recently retired from the San Joaquin County Office of Education, Veray is now devoting her energies to being a docent at the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum and engaging in and supporting Stockton Institute for Continued Learning (SICL) at Delta College. And, of course, spending many hours reading!


RUTHANNE BASSETT, recipient of the 2015 Literacy Hero Award


Ruthanne Bassett’s life reflects her love of working with children, and with the public in general, in both classroom and library settings.  

She started volunteering at the Manteca Library when she attended Manteca High in the 1960s.

Although she earned a college degree in agricultural studies, she decided to pursue a career path that allowed her to share her love of books and knowledge.

For two years, she taught fourth- and sixth-grade classes at Neil Hafley School in Manteca Unified School District. She also worked as a substitute teacher at various schools in the district.

She spent 15 years working as an assistant librarian for the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System. The first three years were at the Cesar Chavez main library in Stockton; the last twelve years at the Manteca Public Library.

“I followed my heart, and I’m glad I did, because I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of being an assistant librarian. She liked the diversity of her workplace which had her working at the reference desk, helping with setting up programs, and leading Story Time for young children.

Ruthanne is also a committee chairperson and a key volunteer at the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca. She organizes and manages the Children’s Theater at the annual event, and she shares a wealth of knowledge with other committee members. Her contributions have helped to make the regional Bookfest a huge success.

Although Bassett retired from the library in January, she continues to enjoy the best of her academic and professional worlds. She still works part-time hours at the library, volunteering her time to maintain popular library programs that she previously provided as a paid employee.

“This library is my home,” she says matter-of-factly, by way of an explanation.

JENNIFER TORRES – Literacy Hero Award – 2015 recipient


Jennifer Torres is an author, community leader, and literacy advocate who has actively influenced the development of programs for education and youth in San Joaquin County. Originally from Southern California, Jennifer has lived in Stockton for the past 10 years with her husband, David, and daughters, Alice and Soledad.

She currently works at University of the Pacific, where she coordinates the Beyond Our Gates initiative, working alongside community partners to improve early literacy across our region. She serves as a board member in numerous community organizations, including: El Concilio Council for the Spanish Speaking (a Stockton-based organization that provides a range of social services to individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley); San Joaquin A+ (a nonprofit organization that supports and enhances education by promoting collaboration among education, nonprofit, and business organizations); and the YMCA of San Joaquin County (a nonprofit organization that provides developmental, enrichment, and recreational opportunities to children).

Before joining Pacific, Jennifer worked as a reporter for The Record newspaper, covering education, diversity, children and families. During her tenure, she launched, organized, and managed the High School Journalism Awards, the newspaper’s annual contest honoring the work of outstanding high school journalists.

She continues to lead workshops for journalism students on feature writing, source development, and other key topics.

She has been honored for education and youth reporting by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and she received the Action on Behalf of Children Award from the Family Resource and Referral Center in recognition for media coverage benefiting children in San Joaquin County.

Torres is the author of “Finding the Music,” a bilingual  picture book, inspired in part by the San Joaquin County community and published this spring by Lee & Low Books. Her middle-grade novel, “Stef Soto, Taco Queen,” is due out from Little, Brown in winter 2016.

HARRY BAKKER, recipient of 2015 Literacy Hero Award


Harry Bakker, an author and retired educator, spent his life championing reading, writing, and full educational access for all citizens in his community.

Originally a junior high school teacher in the Modesto City Schools, Mr. Bakker became director of Instructional Materials Center (IMC) at the Stanislaus County Office of Education in 1974. He was promoted to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in 1991, retired in 1999, and returned to work as Associate Superintendent of Educational Services for Modesto City Schools in 2000.   

Mr. Bakker authored California’s Story, a fourth grade work text, published by Steck Vaughn. Additionally, he authored a Stanislaus County history unit used for many years by third grade students throughout Stanislaus County.

He served as Director of the California Instructional Video Clearinghouse from its inception in 1986 through 1991, assuming the responsibility for the evaluation of thousands of instructional videos. The Clearinghouse identified high-quality instructional videos to support California’s curriculum standards and arranged statewide duplication rights for selected titles.

Mr. Bakker was one of the authors of a half-million dollar innovative research and developmental cooperative project with Encyclopedia Britannica, a plan designed to develop a digitally interactive videodisc and CD-ROM programs for English Language Learners.

Additionally, he was a major writer of Project Riverbank, a five-year, $2,200,000 School-to-Work grant. During his tenure, Mr. Bakker’s grant-writing skills brought millions of dollars of resources to school districts in Stanislaus County.

Although he retired in 2003, Mr. Bakker continues to promote literacy as a volunteer and financial contributor.
Bakker still serves as Spelling Master for the Stanislaus County Spelling Championships, annual contests that offer enrichment and challenge for elementary and junior high students.

He continues to serve as an active board member at Learning Quest/Stanislaus Literacy Center, a nonprofit organization that provides adult literacy programs, GED preparation, prison education programs, and family literacy programs for parents who need to improve their English and want to be better able to read to their child and/or help their child with homework.

Harry and his wife, Donna Bakker, are ongoing supporters of nonprofit educational organizations, including Learning Quest programs, Education Foundation of Stanislaus County, and the American Heritage Scholarship Program.

Over the years, Bakker’s efforts have transformed public education in our region, and he continues to help individuals, families, and schools in their shared quest to create a more literate community.

GVBF Logo Square

Great Valley Bookfest Awards Recipients
October 17, 2014

2014 Award Recipients:

• Sally Hale
• Karen Williams
• Gary Dei Rossi

Literacy Hero: Sally Hale


Sally Hale is a literacy advocate who spent 28 years in public education as a classroom teacher, mentor teacher, curriculum consultant, and staff development leader. Since her retirement, Sally has filled many important roles in local schools and nonprofit programs:

• She supports classroom teachers by organizing professional development events and sharing instructional resources through Great Valley Writing Project at California State University Stanislaus.

• She voluntarily provides one-on-one coaching and after-school assistance to help teachers improve reading and writing instruction in their classrooms.

• She provides learning opportunities for young writers by filling important leadership roles at GVWP Writing & Technology Workshops (a series of summer writing programs for K-12 students).

• She helped create and enrich after-school literacy programs for students at Sequoia Elementary in Manteca, helping these “Tiger Writers” to publish an award-winning book.

• She contributes many hours to the Escalon Public Library; she also volunteers at the Escalon Historical Society, where she has arranged classroom presentations and field trips for local students.

• As a founding member of Great Valley Bookfest, Sally helped establish Bookfest collaborations with public libraries. She organizes many important Bookfest activities, including workshops for teachers, programs for aspiring writers, and recognition for student authors.

Sally’s countless hours of volunteer work have created unique learning opportunities for children, teachers, and adult citizens in south San Joaquin county. She exemplifies the spirit of a Literacy Hero, and we are proud to be able to honor her with this award.

Literacy Hero: Karen Williams


For the past 18 years, Karen Williams has served as the executive director of LearningQuest—Stanislaus Literacy Center. Under Karen’s leadership, the program has grown from a budget of $68,000 with two part-time employees to a budget of over $1.8 million with 55 employees. The organization, which served just 50 adults per year in 1996, now serves over 1300 adults annually.

• In 1998, Stanislaus Literacy Center added their first Family Literacy Program and a Drop-In Learning Center.

• In 2001, the Literacy Center partnered with Stanislaus County Library to form “Reading Works.” The partnership has been so productive that Stanislaus County now receives the largest library literacy grant in the state.

• Over the years, programs have expanded to provide a variety of GED preparation courses and English classes for non-native speakers.

• This year, LearningQuest and the Stanislaus County Office of Education launched Destination Graduation, offering adults of any age the opportunity to attend classes with credentialed teachers to earn the credits needed for a high school diploma.

• For her achievements, Williams was honored with a MEDAL fellowship from California Literacy; she was also chosen as the 2005 Literacy Network’s recipient of the Jean and Clyde Dunlap Award. Karen’s dedicated efforts have helped to provide thousands of adults with new confidence and career opportunities, empowering them to redefine their lives – and the lives of their children – through literacy.

Literacy Hero: Dr. Gary Dei Rossi


Gary Dei Rossi has spent 38 years as a highly respected and admired educator: first, in public schools, and later at San Joaquin County Office of Education.

• He continues to promote literacy through his work in “First 5” (the San Joaquin County Children & Families Commission), San Joaquin A+ (a partnership between business and education to improve literacy), Teachers College of San Joaquin, California State University Stanislaus, and University of the Pacific.

• He has also served on educational advisory committees for the Farm Bureau, Head Start, Stockton Civic, the Haggin Museum, and Great Valley Bookfest.

• He received Congressional attention for his work in “Operation Recognition,” a program that awarded high school diplomas to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and to Japanese internees.

• He has co‐authored two books that help educators teach students about the history of San Joaquin County.

• His wife, Katherine, served as an elementary teacher in public schools for over 30 years, and both of their children are teachers.

Over the years, Dr. Dei Rossi’s tireless efforts have transformed public education in our region, and he continues to help teachers, parents, students, and school administrators in their quest to create a more literate and better-informed community. We commend him for his many contributions, and we are pleased to be able to honor him as a Literary Hero.

For more information, contact Michele Davis ~ michele [@] gvbookfest.org