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New director takes reins at Children’s Reading Alliance


Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new executive director and assistant director, the Children’s Reading Alliance (CRA) is continuing to support and empower parents and put books in the hands of children in Las Cruces and throughout Doña Ana County.

“It’s an exciting year and an exciting time,” said Marisa DeWolf, who came on board as CRA executive director earlier this year. “New people are continuing CRA’s really rich and established history,” she said.

“We are reintroducing ourselves,” said CRA’s new assistant director, Linda Lardner. “We are the book people.”

CRA is an independent nonprofit housed at the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico, located at 3880 Foothills Road in Las Cruces.

CRA’s major programs are

  • Book distribution: Getting thousands of books each year into the hands of children through a wide range of community and school events and via La Clinica de Familia, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Jardin de los Niños, Save the Children, Head Start, New Mexico PreK and other local partnerships. “There are so many opportunities to connect and collaborate,” DeWolf said.
  • First Teacher Program: This six-week bilingual training course is “our bread and butter,” said DeWolf. It is a “really extensive, really effective” way CRA helps parents engage and interact with their children through reading. Participants receive almost 20 children’s books to keep – “It already creates a home library,” DeWolf said – along with educational toys and other learning tools. DeWolf said a recent impact study conducted by UTEP showed “families love the program,” she said. The overwhelming response from parents who participate in First Teacher is, “I read more often to my child,” DeWolf said.
  • Reading Buddies: This program matches CRA volunteers one-on-one with struggling readers in second- and third-grade classrooms throughout Las Cruces. CRA is increasing the training in provides to participating volunteers, De Wolf said, especially in recognition of how much reading and learning time young children lost because of COVID-19.

“Our focus is supporting parents,” said Lardner, who is co-leader of the parents sector of Doña Ana County Resilience Leaders, an organization formed in 2017 to combat childhood trauma and abuse.

CRA’s other staff include Karina Gomez, the program manager for First Teacher; April Bennett, a programs assistant; and Cassandra Reveles, creative media lead. 

One of Reveles’ most impactful creations on the new CRA website is the parents’ resource page,” DeWolf said. Visit www.childrensreadingalliance.org/parent-resources-page.

DeWolf is originally from western New York state. She came to New Mexico in 2002 and has an MA from New Mexico State University. Lardner was raised in Deming and has a BA from NMSU.

Contact CRA at 575-522-3717 and info@cralc.org.

Children’s Reading Alliance