Junior Leader Readers Celebrate 30,000-Book Milestone

Sheriff Jones, Lowman Hill Students Help United Way Young Leaders Celebrate 30,000-Book Milestone

 On March 1, United Way’s Young Leaders Society (YLS) celebrated the distribution of its 30,000th book through the 7-year-old initiative that gives books to kindergartners from lower income schools. Kindergarten students from Lowman Hill Elementary joined Shawnee County Sheriff and noted storytime expert Herman Jones for a reading at the library.

Junior Leader Readers (JLR) was launched in 2010 by the YLS group. Through the generosity of corporate and individual sponsorships and a partnership with the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, YLS purchases books for kindergarten and pre-K students in Shawnee County. Any area school with at least 50% of its students qualifying for free/reduced lunch can participate. This ensures that children who may be at higher risk for school struggles have books at home to encourage them to read.

Sarah Sanders, YLS steering committee chair, said that their members take pride in creating opportunities that directly support United Way’s goals in education, financial stability and health. “I have enjoyed the privilege of volunteering and donating to Junior Leader Reader for many years. Knowing that 30,000 books are in homes in our community for children that might not otherwise have the ability to build a home library encourages me to continue my support of this program. I’m so thankful to the many businesses and individuals who have made this possible.”

Kindergarten teachers in these schools are appreciative of the YLS effort.  “I am always looking for ways to get books into the little hands of my students,” said Tiffany Luttjohann, Kindergarten teacher at Ross Elementary.  “I am so thankful that Junior Leader Reader finds people in the community to come and read to us! It is such a gift that people take time out of their day to share a story and deliver books. The kids are always grateful and excited to have a book of their very own.”

The program launched at Scott Magnet Elementary, and the first book was sponsored by YLS member Ryan Yamka in memory of his father, Harry. In the program’s first year, nearly 100 kindergarten students participated in a special book reading and received a copy of the book Edward the Emu written by Sheena Knowles and illustrated by Rod Clement.

“When my father passed in 2010,” Yamka said, “I knew I wanted to continue his legacy by giving back to the community and helping children.  As part of the Young Leader’s Society, I could partner with the community and corporations that support the United Way of Greater Topeka, to start the Junior Leader Readers program.  As simple as the concept seems, many children in the Greater Topeka area do not have a book to call their own. The feedback from the community has been extremely positive.  I am humbled and honored that the Young Leader’s Society has worked so hard to dedicate their time, and help continue my father’s legacy of helping children by giving away its 30,000th book.”

Yamka started his career at Hill’s Pet Nutrition and recently founded Luna Science and Nutrition. He and his family live in Connecticut where they are involved with Scouting and where he continues his United Way story as a volunteer for United Way of Coastal Fairfield County.

During the current school year, YLS expects to distribute almost 5,000 books across three reading dates at 21 schools. The program relies on volunteers who visit the schools to read and hand out books. YLS also provides a bilingual flier with an explanation of Junior Leader Readers and parent tips to encourage reading at home. This year’s books have been underwritten by Security Benefit, Topeka South Rotary, BNSF Railway and Bartlett and West, with the assistance of hundreds of individual donors who sponsored individual books through their United Way workplace campaign.



Students at these schools will take home JLR books this year:

  • Seaman: Logan Elementary
  • Auburn-Washburn: Pauline Central
  • Shawnee Heights: Tecumseh North
  • Topeka Public Schools: Avondale West, Bishop, Pine Ridge Prep (preschool), Highland Park Central; Lowman Hill; McCarter; McClure; McEachron; Meadows; Quincy; Randolph; Ross; Scott Magnet; Shaner; State Street; Stout; Whitson; Williams Magnet

United Way is interested in hearing how the Junior Leader Readers program has affected local students and teachers. Feedback can be sent to Angel Romero at 785.228.5128 or aromero@unitedwaytopeka.org.

More information is available at https://unitedwaytopeka.org/give/leadership/yls/jl/.


Our Vision: Connected individuals and families maximizing their full potential.
Our Mission: To achieve positive sustainable change through education, financial stability and health for everyone in our community.

United Way brings together people, companies and nonprofits to focus on building a brighter future. United Way remains dedicated supporting Basic Needs including food, rent and utilities, health and prescription access and safety from domestic violence. For more than 80 years United Way of Greater Topeka has been improving and changing lives. Since 1980, United Way has invested more than $110 million into the community.