The RIFSoCal Family
Top row: Third from left, Patt Zimbelman. Fouth from left, Jake Kazanjian.
Fifth from left, Phyllis Shlecter.
Bottom row: Second from left, Julie Cooke.
Phyllis Shlecter — Chair Emeritus
RIFSoCal will always be my “baby.”
Phyllis will always represent the heart and sole of RIFSoCal. Her passion and commitment to children’s literacy is legendary in our organizational lore, and we miss her terribly.
Her own words convey what RIFSoCal meant to her…
“I arrived in Los Angeles in 1984, forced to retire
from teaching in New York City by rheumatoid
arthritis, and immediately began a search for
meaningful volunteer opportunities to help me fill my days. Fortuitously, RIFSoCal was running an ad in the LA Times seeking volunteers - I answered the ad, attended a Board meeting in the spring of 1985, and the rest is history!
RIFSoCal kept me alive and alert! Volunteering at the warehouse every Monday and Wednesday from 10 am – 1 pm gave me a reason to get out of bed, no matter how much pain I was in. In 1986 I became the VP of Volunteers, training others to do Motivational Reading Events and book distributions. In 1990, I took over as VP of the Book Program. Until I became Chair Emeritus in the late 1990’s, I was either President or Chair of the RIFSoCal Board of Directors. In 2011, I was thrilled to be honored as RIFSoCal’s first recipient of the Julie Cooke Humanitarian Award. RIFSoCal will always be my “baby.””
I am honored to have the opportunity to celebrate the wonder of Julie with you. Julie was, quite simply, RIFSoCal’s heart. Her undauntable spirit was the best RIFSoCal had to offer. Our spirit has dimmed with Julie’s loss, but as she would expect - it will continue to shine as we work to bring the books Julie loved to order, unpack and place on the shelves, to children all over Greater Los Angeles who go home every day to rooms with no books.
Julie will always be in our hearts - every time we open a box of especially wonderful books we will hear her exclamations of delight and pleasure - and every time we grow to inspire more Readers for Tomorrow we will feel her happiness and satisfaction. The world is a better place because of Julie’s passion, love and dedication and she is sorely missed.
Patt began her journey as a RIFSoCal volunteer in 1987, with the idea that she would read a few books to children in hopes of encouraging them to read. Within a few years, she was reading to several thousand children at a diverse assortment of RIFSoCal sites throughout the Los Angeles area. Her efforts to enhance literacy in Southern California brought Patt accolades and recognition from National Reading Is Fundamental as the recipient of the Western Regional RIF Volunteer of the Year award at an awards ceremony in Washington, DC. Becoming a RIFSoCal Board member was a natural transition, and over the years, Patt held numerous officer positions, ending up as Board President for many years.
Patt and Julie Cooke were the main forces behind our Motivational Reading Program, working together to order the amazing books that encouraged thousands of children each year to love books and read for fun. Together they shared a vision of literacy for every child, sharing a fierce determination to improve the literacy potential of children.
It makes our hearts warm to remember Jake’s firm belief in Reading Is Fundamental of Southern California’s mission to promote literacy and motivate children to read. As a long time Board member and Book Warehouse volunteer, he just wanted to help provide brand new books for as many children as possible. Jake, who passed away in October of 2018, had arranged for his estate to donate over $13,000 to ensure our work continues. The RIFSoCal Board, staff and the children we serve pay tribute to Jake’s vision of literacy for every child.