Lorielle Hollaway founded Cultured Books to cultivate curiosity and inspire impact among area youth – especially among children of color – by promoting a literacy lifestyle.
Cultured Books began as a pop-up bookstore in 2017 to increase literacy rates and provide children in St. Petersburg with better access to culturally relevant literature. Hollaway also hopes to impact children’s lives by ensuring that literacy extends far beyond school and is an integral aspect of their everyday lives.
“I think that’s something that’s really important to the way we market the programs that we have,” Hollaway explained. “It’s not just something that is like one-and-done – it’s a lifestyle.”
Cultured Books was established as a nonprofit organization in 2018, and the surrounding community is taking notice of its impact. Holloway took home the $15,000 grand prize at Social Ventures Partners Tampa Bay’s Fast Pitch competition Nov. 12.
Reach St. Pete received $10,000 in funding for finishing second, and 360 Eats won $7,500 for third. Florida 1.27 won $5,000 for receiving the most votes in the Audience Choice Award.
Hollaway relayed she was often told the mission of her Cultured Books Literacy Foundation (CBLF) was amazing, and needed, but that it did not meet the metrics required to secure funding.
She said that made Friday night’s win all the more surprising. “I was excited to see that people connected to our story – from the judges to the people in the crowd,” said Hollaway.
Held at the Palladium, the Fast Pitch event is the culmination of a 16-week program in which carefully selected nonprofits receive lessons from SVP’s local business partners on how to successfully operate a company. An emphasis is placed on marketing and storytelling to boost the organization’s public profile and increase revenue streams outside of government and private grants. Representatives from eight local nonprofits gave a three-minute pitch on their organization’s mission and impact on the community and then answered follow-up questions from a panel of five judges.
“It is always wonderful to see the weeks of hard work and passion come together on one night,” said SVP Program Manager Keara McGraw. “Each organization has worked so hard, and it’s incredible to be able to share their work with our community.”
Hollaway called the program intensive and said it took some time to process all the information and lessons she received, but in the week leading up to the competition, the process became clear.
“The education from it all came in at once, and that last week it was like, ‘this is why,’” she said. “This makes sense – this is why I learned this.”
Hollaway said learning how to express her passion and engage with listeners was especially helpful, as was learning how to convey metrics and measure your impact in the community. She said this experience will not only help her to increase funding for Cultured Books but also make her a better collaborative partner with other organizations.
“What it means for Cultured Books Literary Foundation (CBLF) is us being sure of what we want, how we want to do it, and then making sure that our partnerships and collaborations further our mission,” said Hollaway.
The $15,000 in unrestricted grant funding will help to create those new partnerships and collaborations.
Holloway is launching the Family Literacy Engagement Survey, in partnership with Shaping the Early Mind and Barbershop Book Club. Together, they will canvas areas in south St. Petersburg that are home to large populations of their target audience, including Jordan Park, Childs Park, Bethel Heights and Coquina Key. The goal is to learn what barriers prevent literacy-hesitant families from engaging in reading activities. This information will then be used to better support out-of-school activities for those families.
The funding will also support the Literacy Artist in Residency program. Hollaway will bring in local artists across all mediums to lead workshops, and the money will allow CBLF to provide children with art materials and workshops, and pay the artists who conduct the weekly events.
“Most of our workshops, when we have people from the community come in and lead them, it really inspires the kids to learn more about different community members, their professions and backgrounds,” she explained.
Hollaway is grateful for the guidance and support she received both in and out of the classroom from McGraw and her program mentor Karen Chassin, executive director of the St. Petersburg Foundation.
“They were just very supportive in making sure that I had all the resources to prepare me not only to pitch but also for long-term success in the nonprofit world,” Hollaway said. “I also appreciate that they value each nonprofit as its own unique organization, and they don’t try to make you into something you’re not.”
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