Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Earl Phalen ’89

A poor black child, abandoned at birth, is adopted by a civil-rights-loving Irish-American family outside Boston. The youngest of eight, Earl Phalen ’89 is spurred by his parents’ expectations to achieve great things. He graduates from Yale College, goes on to Harvard Law, and decides he wants to give something back. With a classmate, he meets with disadvantaged teens who are considered promising students in nearby Roxbury. “We were sick to our stomachs,” Phalen later told the Boston Herald, to learn that only one can read at a sixth-grade level. So Phalen co-founds a tutoring program that grows to serve 12,000 students a year, picking up a Presidential Service Award along the way.

Now Phalen is CEO of another nonprofit, Reach Out and Read, that puts him in the lives of even more impoverished children—some 3.8 million a year. The organization, founded by Boston-area pediatricians, relies on volunteer doctors and nurses to give out some six million books yearly to young pre-readers. The health professionals also dispense advice to parents: read to your kids. And, ROR says [PDF], research proves that participating parents spend more time with their kids, and the children show “significant developmental gains and higher test scores.” Someday, perhaps Phalen’s life and work will become the subject of a storybook. For now, a March 23 profile on ABC World News—and being named Yalie of the Week—will have to do.

Filed under education, nonprofits, activism
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