Joining the ranks of Ivanka Trump, Shoshanna Lonstein-Gruss, and Jessica Alba, Hamptons magazine editor-in-chief, Samantha Yanks, is StrollerTraffic’s Inspired Mom of the Month. Presented by ViaCord, our Inspired Mom series recognizes notable mothers who are carving out time in their busy schedules to affect a positive change in the lives of women and children.
The West Village mother is a passionate supporter and board member of Literacy Partners, a volunteer-based, not for profit organization that strengthens family through literacy in New York City. We caught up with Samantha about her work and her daughter, Sadie, age 6, in New York.
StrollerTraffic: Why literacy?
Samantha Yanks: Philanthropy has always taken a front seat in my life, but as my frame of reference has changed, so have my priorities. I was of course taken by the joys of becoming a mother, watching my daughter learn how to walk and interact . . . but observing the process of her learning how to read fascinated me. We take for granted that it’s something we know how to do, but for so many it’s not—and it can paralyze us. If I can help a few learn how to read through funding, I’m honored, but I want to make an impact that’s bigger than that.
ST: How did you first get involved with Literacy Partners?
Yanks: My smart friend Mike Steib, the brilliant CEO of XO Group, invited me to become involved. I don’t think either of us could envision our lives or that of our children if we couldn’t read. Literacy Partners resonates with me because it’s local. It helps those near us.
ST: So, how big of a problem is literacy in New York?
Yanks: It’s big. There are more than two million New York City residents who are functionally illiterate. Unfortunately, it’s a largely hidden epidemic. If you can’t read or write, if you don’t have a high school degree, then you don’t have access to a career wage. You are likely living in poverty.
ST: Two million. Wow. Tell us a little more about the organization.
Yanks: Literacy Partners started in the early 1970s as a grass roots kind of thing—a group of volunteers—and it caught the attention of New York Post gossip columnist Liz Smith. Liz and some friends adopted the organization and introduced it to a different network. Today, Literacy Partners has a phenomenal collection of authors who have read their work at the gala, contributed funds, and done publicity over the years. Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Alice Walker, Joyce Carole Oates, Elizabeth Strout, and Katie Couric have all been involved.
ST: Is Sadie also involved and aware?
Yanks: I have to admit I struggle with children and the appropriate age to introduce them to philanthropy. It’s very important to me that Sadie gives back, and her Jewish nursery school really enforced that. It’s Tzedakah. It is a gift to be able to give.
ST: What do you love to do with your family in New York?
Yanks: Morandi for brunch. They make her a traditional affogato, without espresso, so it’s vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate poured table side. We also love to go to Washington Square Park and watch this artist who makes ‘sand art.’ The Lego Store in Rockefeller Center is a good one. Sadie also loves cooking with her grandmother.
ST: Sounds like you guys know how to do it right. Tell us, how can other mothers support your efforts?
Yanks: The truth about philanthropy is that it must be organic. You must feel that you need to give your time, because it is rewarding but it takes dedication and purpose. One can drive you to give, but they cannot make you feel passionate. When that clicks and you think, ‘I need to help,’ you’ve been set free. Every opportunity is not the right one to talk about what we do, but I thank StrollerTraffic and your readers for tapping into something I treasure. I bet you haven’t met a mom who doesn’t jump for joy the day they can say, ‘My child can read.’ It’s freedom, really.
ST: Thank you, Samantha. We are certainly inspired!