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COMMUNITY HERO:
PAM SMITH-RODDEN
by Lisa Suhay from Norfolk, Virginia

I am a children's book author. I had an idea to write a picturebook based on the hundreds of beautiful Norfolk, Virginia Mermaid sculptures. I wanted There Goes a Mermaid! A NorFolktale to benefit local children's charities: The Virginian-Pilot Joy Fund, which gives gifts to children living below the poverty line, and the Literacy Partnership, which provides reading tutors and books to Title I schools. Norfolk is 24% functionally illiterate and 19.4% below poverty (Virginia is 9%) - Hampton Roads as a whole is around 12%.

I didn't want to take the book to a regular publisher because they would only give the charities a token amount. I wanted the book to give as much as possible. Pam Smith-Rodden is the Director of Marketing for The Virginian-Pilot Newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia. I took the book idea to her. She pitched it to her boss who turned it down cold. She took it back to him twice more, and he said no twice more. He's a very nice man, but he just saw the project as too small to make any real impact. There were bigger fish to fry than mermaids.

Instead of sending me packing, Pam approved the project. Instead of doing the project as a money-maker, she set it up as a self-perpetuating fundraiser for the two charities. The money for printing was a gift and the newspaper makes zero. Money for reprints will be placed in a trust and the rest divided between the charities. She even insisted I have a royalty, which I hadn't asked for, but in truth, desperately needed to help support my own four children.


This little project has brought the whole community out of the woodwork to partner and make it succeed. All the people who doubted that anything could make a dent in this wall of illiteracy and poverty are out there, right now, breaking that wall down. Pam Smith-Rodden struck the first, resounding blow.

The photos of the actual sculptures are courtesy of The Virginian-Pilot's photo staff and the pastels are done by Sam Hundley. Sam, the book's designer Kira Porter designer, photographers too numerous to mention and the map artist John Earle all donated their work to the project. The spirit of this book has been infectious!

Designer Kira Porter, Illustrator Sam Hundley, and map artist John Earle (all from The Virginian-Pilot) volunteered their services as gifts to make the book happen. The mayor, public library, schools, local businesses, parents and teachers, neighbors and friends are all out there doing what they can to make this succeed - selling books, buying them, creating events for the book and getting the word out that Norfolk, Virginia is uniting to solve some serious issues. We have over 800 orders and the book just went to press!

Pam saw the good in her community. She knew Norfolk was like a string of fairy lights that is missing one bulb. That one tiny bulb may not be much to look at on its own, but plug it into that big long string and watch it light up the darkest night. She is my hero.


Written by Lisa Suhay from Norfolk, Virginia
Last changed on: 9/10/2007 11:12:49 AM

The Literacy Partnership Bringing R.I.F. book and reading tutors to Title I schools.

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