Roanokers Get Ready to Read … and Play Ball

Volunteer Coordinator Meg Carter introduces the Roanoke Valley Read program in the Patrick Henry Ballroom.

by Cheryl Hodges

Reprising its role as a focal point in the community, the recently renovated Patrick Henry Hotel Ballroom was the setting for the “Roanoke Valley Reads” kick-off last week.  Introducing this year’s book and complementary event schedule were volunteer coordinators Meg Carter, Ann McCallum and Lucy Lee.

The undertaking has expanded from last year’s (Roanoke Reads) but the idea is the same; “A community-wide reading program that connects individuals through the reading and discussion of a common book.” New this year is the inclusion of the younger set; there are two companion books selected for younger readers (one each for K-3 and grades 4-6).

Lest the bulk of modern-day techies commence a collective eye-roll, this endeavor sounds like a lot of fun, with plenty of events planned for people of all ages.  The idea is to “encourage people to make reading a part of their daily lives”—to get people reading again, and perhaps spark that first-time enthusiasm for reading in a younger child.

The book the group has chosen this year is “Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference,” by Warren St. John. According to the book’s site (, it chronicles the story of Luma Mufleh, a Jordanian-American soccer coach who is living in the midst of a refugee resettlement area outside of Atlanta, Georgia. She decides to form a soccer team for the children in the area, who are from many different cultural backgrounds. Despite their differences, including language barriers, soccer becomes a “binding commonality and helps the children adjust and succeed in their new surroundings.”

The topic of refugee resettlement is one that resonates in every community, including the Roanoke Valley and there will be plenty of opportunities to join in discussions on the book and the various issues it raises.

But the program goes beyond reading and book discussion – several events are planned for the next two months, including a talk next week by Warren St. John, author of “Outcasts United”  (Oct. 5 at the Hollins University Theatre) and the “First Annual Refugee Cup” soccer tournament to be held here in Roanoke.

Three soccer matches scheduled for Nov. 12 and 13, culminating in the Refugee Cup Championship Game Nov. 13 at the William Fleming High School stadium. Participating teams include the Roanoke team as well as teams from Columbus OH, Charlottesville, and Nashville. The “heroine” of the book, Coach Luma Mufleh, is also scheduled to speak at Fleming on Nov. 13 at 2:00, the same day as the championship game.

The idea for communities reading a book together is not original to Roanoke. A study done in 2004 showing that “literary reading in America was declining rapidly,” sparked the National Endowment of the Arts to initiate the “Big Read” which has since spread to over 400 communities.

Ann McCallum, one of the volunteers for Roanoke Valley Reads, is retired from Fairfax County schools where she “worked for 120 schools’ reading programs and every school had a reading specialist.”  McCallum said she met Lucy Lee through the Taubman art museum where they both volunteered. They knew community reading was being done other places and wanted to “bring it here.”  While the movement spreads and spinoff events draw people into many venues, McCallum does hope people will be introduced to or revisit “the value and pleasure of reading a book,” which she laughingly says can even be an e-reader.

There will be opportunities to attend book discussions, “Conversations with Clergy,” Roanoke refugees telling their stories, a panel discussion, a Local Colors event and the chance to see an awe-inspiring “talk video” featuring “Emmanual Jal, who was rescued by an aid worker and “became an international hip-hop star and an activist for kids in war zones.”

Schools across the area including those in the City, County, as well as Hollins College freshmen English students will also be reading “Outcasts United.”

Perhaps many will be able to echo the words of Lucy Lee who said, “I just love to read; it has always been a part of me.”

All events are free and open to the public; visit for dates and events and for places to get a copy of “Outcasts United.” Libraries have copies as well as many local bookstores, some of which will give a discount.

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