Literacy initiative encourages Allegheny County to hit the books

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Pittsburghers will hit the books next month with a little help from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Community College of Allegheny County will kick off "The Big Read," a monthlong series of free events to promote literacy and community engagement as part of the "One College ... One Community" initiative.

Events will be hosted at nearly 30 locations around Allegheny County at local schools and public libraries.

"Reading and literacy are at the core of all of our partners' missions," said Barbara Evans, associate dean of academic affairs, South Campus. "It gets to the heart of what we do on a daily basis."

The program was made possible by a grant from the NEA, which this year funded 77 communities for similar projects.

The 2014 book for Allegheny County is "The Things They Carried," a collection of semi-autobiographical stories by Tim O'Brien about the experience of American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Keynote speaker will be Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran and the president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. He will speak at the kickoff event March 3 at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. The event will feature performances by CCAC students and selections from the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Soldiers & Sailors President John McCabe will also speak.

"We want to reach out to people who have served and their families," Ms. Evans said. "We're thrilled Soldiers & Sailors has responded positively. The museum has a wealth of information and history for the people of Pittsburgh."

Mayor Bill Peduto has named March 3 "Big Read Day," as has the Allegheny County Council, to commemorate the event.

"The Big Read initiative provides our region with the unique opportunity to explore a wide range of topics," Mr. Peduto wrote in a mayoral proclamation. "It also provides a mechanism to promote literacy, reading and community engagement."

Events include speakers, dance and drama performances, book discussions and documentary screenings.

Allegheny County is one of three Pennsylvania communities that received grants over the last year, joining Harrisburg and West Chester.

The Big Read began in 2006 as a pilot program featuring 10 communities and four books, according to the program's website. Since its 2007 national launch, the NEA has given more than 1,000 grants to communities for Big Read programs. This is the third year Allegheny County has received NEA funding.

For a full list of Big Read events, visit and search "Big Read 2014."

Lauren Lindstrom: or 412-263-1964.

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