JMU in the Community

Gus Bus goes to Washington

Community literacy program honored at White House

by Eric Gorton

Kim Hartzleer-Weakley, Sarah Hussein and Michelle Obama

SUMMARY: In addition to their recognition at the White House, each of the 12 winners will receive $10,000 and communications and capacity-building support from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Gus Bus team poses for photo with Gus Bus parked in the background.

A JMU administrator for the community literacy service, The Reading Road Show, and a child participant in the program, received a 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award ( from First Lady Michelle Obama in a White House ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 15. A recording of the ceremony is available at

The Reading Road Show, also known as "The Gus Bus," is one of 12 national winners of the prestigious award, the highest honor awarded to such programs in the United States. The Reading Road Show is the only awardee based at a college or university.

Representing the program, which was chosen from a pool of 251 nominations and 50 finalists, was Kim Hartzler-Weakley, coordinator of Children and Youth Services in the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services at JMU, and 12-year-old Sarah Hussein.

In addition to their recognition at the White House, each of the 12 winners received $10,000 and communications and capacity-building support from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The award is given to programs that employ engagement in the arts and the humanities to generate a wide range of positive outcomes, including increases in academic achievement; growth in graduation and college enrollment rates; and improvements in literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

Kim Hartzler-Weakley looks on as Sarah Hussein gets a hug from Micelle Obama.Since 2003, The Gus Bus has been traveling to low-income neighborhoods to provide extra educational support for early childhood literacy and school readiness; and bringing high quality children’s literature to at-risk children and their families where they live. The program eliminates transportation barriers and increases parental involvement. A holistic program, it also supplements family nutrition and offers informational resources to parents.

The program also provides JMU students enriching volunteer opportunities and experiential learning.

First presented in 1998, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the signature program of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The awards are presented annually in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Other recipients of the award were:

A six-week performing arts program that helps 11- to 14-year-olds develop their self-awareness and respect for themselves and others through disciplined training in modern, jazz, ballet and West African dance (AileyCamp Miami, Miami, Fla.).

Three programs that build skills and confidence in youth by engaging students from lower-income communities in: documentary film production (Baranov Museum Youth History & Film Summer Intensive, Kodiak, Alaska); screen printing (Screen It!, Austin, Texas); and video production, audio engineering, and game coding and design (Next Gen, San Francisco, Calif.).

A N.Y. museum that offers individualized lesson plans for 7- to 11-year-olds with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as part of a strength-based program that builds on their passion for trains to develop social and communication skills with their peers (Subway Sleuths, Brooklyn, N.Y.).

Two programs from Boston, including the longest-running LGBTQ youth theater program in the country, which provides intensive training, artistic and professional skill building, and leadership development to youth from underserved areas (True Colors: Out Youth Theater). The other Boston awardee is a humanities program that prepares youth ages 13 to 19 for college through rigorous workshops centered on culture, social justice, and civic engagement (IBA’s Youth Development Program).

An after-school program for urban teens—incorporating an eight-week summer paid-employment experience—that offers practical application of the design thinking process in audio and video production, photography, fashion design, and ceramics, among other activities [Teen Arts + Tech Program, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), Grand Rapids, Mich.].

An innovative apprenticeship program that weaves together workforce development and life skills training in various art disciplines, including media arts, photography, theater, and visual arts (St. Louis ArtWorks, St. Louis, Mo.).

In addition to the domestic creative youth development programs, Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba School, representing the field of Creative Youth Development in Cuba, received the International Spotlight Award.

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Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2019

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