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'Quit whining' goal is literacy

When she was growing up, Jodi Jill would take her younger brothers to the library, hoping to share with them her love of books and reading.

Things didn't quite go as planned.

Her brothers' fidgeting and complaining prompted Ms. Jill to answer with a retort that has become her battle cry:

"Quit whining and read!"

Today, those words are the slogan for a literacy fund-raising effort spearheaded by Ms. Jill, 29, a literary agent and author based in Boulder, Colo. Money raised from the sale of T-shirts, sweat shirts, magnets and canvas tote bags bearing the trademarked Quit Whining and Read slogan and logo is split 50-50 with nonprofit groups that promote literacy.

Over the past five years, Ms. Jill has shared the proceeds - donating about $60,000 during that period, she says - primarily in the Boulder area, but with the help of publisher John Kellow, Quit Whining and Read is going national. The first such contribution will be given to a network of literacy programs in Southern California. Ms. Jill and Mr. Kellow plan to make monthly donations to groups in different parts of the country.

The slogan Quit Whining and Read is attention-getting, but it's the thought behind the slogan that counts, Ms. Jill says. It may come across as a less-sympathetic approach, but it's intended to spur a frontal assault on the problem of illiteracy.

"Instead of getting the books out and teaching people," Ms. Jill says, "we are helping those programs who do not have enough funds for the needs of the community. . . .

"If you stop and think about it, how can you tell if a person is illiterate? Sitting at lunch with people surrounding you, is it possible to point out an illiterate person? No; they don't smell and they don't wear special clothes. They look like people. However, they can barely function and feel humiliated and embarrassed. If you get them to acknowledge they need help and get others to refrain from making fun of them, it would help a lot of people."

From the time she first had the slogan printed on T-shirts and started selling them at book festivals and other events, people noticed.

"I would be inundated with children and librarians and teachers," she says. "I don't know these people from Adam, but when they take a look at the slogan, and they think about it, and if you can get someone to think about [the message] . . . that's half the fight, and you can go from there. . . .

"A lot of high school kids come to us at these festivals and buy these shirts. And sometimes I ask them, 'Why do you buy these?' And they're like, 'They're cool.' And if you're looking at a 17-year-old and they think it's cool, and they take it to school and show it to all their buddies, then you're looking at a chance to spread the word."

For this effort, Ms. Jill has even given the shirt off her back. Literally.

She was selling Quit Whining and Read merchandise at a UCLA book festival, and sales had been brisk. When a woman customer saw that the only shirt left was the one Ms. Jill was wearing, she told Ms. Jill: "Let's swap shirts." They traded shirts in the restroom, and the woman paid $10 for the slightly used garment.

Would-be entrepreneurs have recognized the merchandising potential of Quit Whining and Read. Ms. Jill says the attention is "flattering," but the deals she has been offered to market the concept have been based solely on making money and not on the benefit to literacy programs.

Enter John Kellow, who is also based in Boulder. "I told him what my agenda was, and he told me what his agenda was, and they were totally similar," Ms. Jill says. "The only difference was that I was giving money to one organization, but his vision was to give it to 12 organizations and make it a national program."

Mr. Kellow's company, Bentlight Media, also provided a much-needed distribution base for Ms. Jill. "Here I am, I'm a literary agent, and I'm playing shopkeeper," she says, describing her struggle to take and fill orders on her own.

As a publisher, Mr. Kellow says his involvement in Quit Whining and Read seemed like a natural. "The thought of supporting literacy is an obvious connection," he says.

He doesn't like things that are "overly politically correct," he says, and Ms. Jill's approach is "a little tongue-in-cheek and a little sarcastic." Some people may be offended by it, Mr. Kellow says, "but most people get excited about it, which means there's a better chance they'll be getting involved."

The award to the Southern California Library Literacy Network will be based on the Quit Whining and Read proceeds for April. Mr. Kellow expects the gift to be about $3,000, which will be presented in early May. The rest of the proceeds will go toward manufacturing merchandise and other Bentlight Media projects.

As much as Ms. Jill and Mr. Kellow would like to peddle their literacy-loving wares, they're more interested in people getting involved in furthering the cause.

"If somebody were to volunteer [for a literacy program] after seeing this," Mr. Kellow says, "that is as good as buying a shirt."


To buy Quit Whining and Read merchandise or to apply for funding, write to 637 S. Broadway, Suite B-334, Boulder, CO 80303; call 303-543-8532; or visit www.quitwhining.com.
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