Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea proudly touts his city as “this great seven-time All-America City,” a distinction that fits neatly in a single breath.
But the mayor’s bit of brag, taken over from his predecessor David Bowers, just got a bit wordier.
He’ll have to add “Hall of Fame” to the boilerplate.
The National Civic League, the same organization that has recognized Roanoke as an All-America City, announced last week that Roanoke is now an All-America Hall of Fame City.
Roanoke is the first city to earn the distinction, according to a news release from the civic league, and the only recipient this year.
“It’s a designation to be proud of and it keeps Roanoke in a national light,” Lea said.
Roanoke’s seven wins tie it with San Antonio, Texas, for the most in the history of the All-America City awards, according to a list of winners on the civic league’s website. The awards began in 1949. Ten cities are recognized each year — more than 500 total so far — for local innovations, civic engagement and collaboration across public, nonprofit and business sectors.
The hall of fame recognition honors the city’s Star City Reads initiative, for which the civic league has cited the city in the past, but also the Feed and Read meal program in the city’s public libraries.
The reading program, for which Roanoke was named All-America City in 2012, is an effort by the library system and 30 community partners to bolster early childhood literacy in the city. The partners supplement the community and human services work they already do with a literacy program. The city touts a 10% increase in reading proficiency for low-income third graders as a result of the effort.
The Feed and Read effort began in the summer of 2014 at the Gainsboro Branch Library after library staff noticed how many children would spend all day at the library during the summer months without eating. The library system initially worked with the Roanoke school system and the YMCA of the Blue Ridge to offer meals to kids from birth to 18 who participate in summer literacy programs.
The aim was to keep the kids fed while enhancing learning and combating the so-called summer slide, when kids lose learning from the previous school year.
Last summer, with new partner Feeding America Southwest Virginia, the program served more than 10,000 meals, bringing the program’s total to 37,000.
Lea, libraries director Sheila Umberger and library youth services manager Amber Lowery will travel to Denver to receive the hall of fame honor June 23.
Until then, Lea is working on how to get the new distinction into his routine brag.
“I’m working on it, man,” he said. “I’ll have it down before we leave here.”