Barr's legacy inspires volunteer corps

Jill Barr [photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones]

Jill’s Literacy League. If it sounds like a band of superheroes, that’s because it sort of is. Formed in memory of Jill Barr, the University Heights mother who died of complications of pneumonia in February 2018, the Literacy League is the newly launched volunteer corps of The Literacy Cooperative’s Imagination Library program.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) is a national program, managed by The Literacy Cooperative here in Cuyahoga County, that mails one free, new book to every registered child each month from birth to age 5. For a child enrolled at birth, the result is a home library of nearly 60 books at no cost, which helps to enhance family literacy, increase vocabulary, and prepare children for a life of learning and love of reading.

Barr, who majored in English at Albion College, loved to read. She also loved to help. She is remembered by friends and family as someone who always stepped up to fill any need, sprinkling acts of kindness wherever she went. She was the consummate volunteer, taking on the work of many with an ever-present smile. Literacy was one of her pet projects, according to her husband, Rob, who said she organized the reading volunteers at Canterbury Elementary School in Cleveland Heights, which her children attended.

“She would be really fond of this program,” he said. “She’s always been a strong proponent of early literacy, believing that you have to catch kids at a certain age, or they’ll be behind for the rest of their lives.”

Joan Spoerl, The Literacy Cooperative’s DPIL director for Cuyahoga County and a friend of Jill, believes that each of the monthly books represents a tiny act of kindness. “Multiply the number of books by the number of times each one is read by a child or their caregiver,” said Spoerl, “and all of that is being done in Jill’s memory.”

Spoerl is the only full-time, paid staff member overseeing the program in the county, and participation continues to grow.

Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks: enrolling eligible children and handing out books at community events; spreading the word to schools, libraries, PTAs, religious institutions, city councils and the like; entering data from paper enrollment forms; and stuffing and sealing welcome envelopes for families without e-mail addresses. 

The launch of Jill’s Literacy League was scheduled for The Literacy Cooperative’s Read Across America luncheon on April 1, which Rob Barr and his three children were to attend. Obviously, that event has been postponed. “But, with the closure of schools and libraries, the need for home libraries is more important than ever,” said Spoerl.

Barr believes the presence of his wife’s name could serve a useful purpose: “Jill had such a large tribe here, was such a part of the community, that this could inspire people to get involved.”

If you are so inspired, contact Joan Spoerl at To learn more, visit

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, a graduate of Heights schools, and a former Coventry School teacher. She is a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District, and is proud to raise her two sons in this community. 

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 12:05 PM, 04.20.2020