Kintaro Featured in Kingsport Life

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Nonprofit Aims to Boost Kids’ Reading Skills

How one man’s vision to empower young people is becoming a reality.

E.G. Souder is a man on a mission. He’s determined to “break the code,” so to speak, and get all kids reading on their grade level or higher.

It rankles him that so many students in the United States read at a “basic” or “below basic” level. But that’s the reality, according to data compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a leading resource on child and family well-being in the United States.

In fact, Souder contends, “The report shows that only about a third of our children can read at grade level by the time they reach fourth grade. The rest are falling behind and tend to never catch up.”

Souder says the situation places a large segment of ourpopulation in economic peril, because children who can’t readat their grade level are less likely to stay in school. He believes their lives and, in turn, our communities, are going to suffer. Other statistics on literacy support Souder’s claims. One in four American children grow up without learning to read; two-thirds of those who can’t read by the end of fourth grade end up in jail or on welfare; and more than 70 percent of prison inmates can’t read above a fourth-grade level, according to

It’s not that schools aren’t doing a good job, Souder maintains, it’s that the problem is too large for them to undertake alone. “Everyone should be concerned that so many of our youth can’t read at grade level, and we should all be working to come up with innovative ways to get them up to speed,” he says. Souder, who lives in Sullivan County, has started a nonprofit organization, Kintaro Inc., that works to improve students’ ability to read silently. Founded in 2010, Kintaro strives to form partnerships in Kingsport that support his mission.

Initially, Souder sought to collaborate with school systems, but he now works with nonprofit groups that serve kids, such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Girls Inc. and other after school programs. His main partner currently is United Way of Greater Kingsport, which serves as a facilitator for connecting Kintaro with local nonprofits across the city.

United Way’s local director, Danelle Glasscock, says Kintaro’s work dovetails with new goals recently set by her organization. “Our board just approved an early grade reading strategy built around a community vision to have all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade,” she explained. “When I shared that with E.G., he offered to provide the Reading Plus software to us free of charge.”

In the summer of 2013, United Way used the software in a summer pilot program at Girls Inc. in Kingsport. The project involved 24 girls in kindergarten through sixth grade and resulted in seven girls raising their reading proficiency by an entire grade.

Glasscock says the results were impressive and that United Way plans to apply 50 more “seats” of the licensed software program at other sites during the next year.

Souder knows about the correlation between education and achievement. A graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., he began his career during the 1970s at what was then a Fortune 50 company based in Houston called Tenneco Inc. He worked in operations and human resources and before moving into executive-level recruiting and training development.

Those experiences led Souder to break out on his own and to launch several successful employment-recruitment businesses over the next three decades. Today, at age 63, he’s winding things down and purposefully reducing his business holdings to one real estate development company in Virginia and a single employment-recruitment agency based in Fort Mill, S.C.

He’s investing more and more of his time into developing Kintaro and financing the placement of the remedial reading software – called Reading Plus – into schools and nonprofit sites. And he has five trained educators on payroll who help train users, monitor progress and provide technical support at Kintaro sites.

The meaning of ‘Kintaro’

The name “Kintaro” translates as “golden boy” and was borrowed from Japanese folklore that Souder heard as a child from his father, an Army veteran who assisted in the occupation of Japan during World War II.

“The story goes that Kintaro was a child who had superhuman strength,” Souder says. “I used the name because I feel that all our children can be empowered, can be helped to bestrong and that they are all, in the end, golden.”

Souder’s initial goal was to use computer learning programs for science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, but he changed his approach after talking with dozens of teachers in schools across the South. “The teachers pointed out that all testing required the ability to read silently. That was an ‘aha’ moment that led me to focus more on improving reading skills and getting kids up to their reading grade levels,” he said.

“If you don’t have those reading skills, it may not be that you can’t do history or math; it’s just that you don’t understand what you’re reading.”

~E.G. Souder

“When you break that down, the biggest part … is that they don’t have the vocabulary. They don’t know their words. So if you’re four grade levels behind, there are probably more than 1,000 words you can’t recognize. It’s a huge disadvantage.

“If you don’t have those reading skills, it may not be that you can’t do history or math; it’s just that you don’t understand what you’re reading. If you think about that and how you would feel in that scenario, you basically can’t wait to get out of the system. It’s punishment; it’s brutal. And that’s basically what’s happening to many of our youth.”

The Reading Plus software was chosen by a team of educators who consult for the organization. Several programs were reviewed, but Reading Plus was the hands-down winner after factoring in cost, ease of use and the ability to monitor progress and provide quantitative results, Souder says.

Glasscock became convinced of the efficacy of Reading Plus when it was recommended at a national United Way conference she attended as a way to facilitate community literacy.

Souder also has witnessed strong outcomes in other locations. In Virginia, SAT scores were raised after a group of low- performing middle-schoolers used the program over several weeks. And in one East Tennessee high school, nearly half of a group of 13 eleventh-graders who were reading below grade level improved significantly, rising from two to seven grades after using the software for just one semester.

“We’re seeing many positive outcomes,” Souder says. “And it only takes offering 30- or 40-minute sessions four times a week to make the difference. We’re adamant that what we do doesn’t interfere with play time. But the great thing is that the program provides online differentiated instruction – which means you can have 30 kids at 30 different levels, and they’re all going to be getting instruction at the level they’re on, all at the same time. That’s so much better than teaching to the third-grade level and if one child is behind, ‘Tough break – you’re going to get even further behind.’”

Why East Tennessee?

Though Souder has visited dozens of schools and nonprof its in several states, including Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, he has elected to focus on the Tri-Cities. “There’s a giving, collaborative part of this region that makes it special,” he says.

Communities will suffer if kids aren’t able to read on grade level, he says, noting that changing economic conditions in rural areas such as those in East Tennessee mean there’s an urgent need for collaborative support for teachers and schools. “Previously, when you went into these areas, people made a living working on small family farms or by running small businesses. But those jobs just don’t exist anymore. We’re headed toward [the creation of] a tremendous underclass with nowhere to go.”

“There’s a giving, collaborative part of this region that makes it special.”

~E.G. Souder

He believes raising reading proficiency will keep more kids in school and increase the number who pursue a post-secondary education. “Local businesses and corporations have a vested interest in supporting what we do, because in terms of the bottom line the cost we’re going to pay if we don’t take action is huge,” he says.

Souder currently is picking up the tab, but his goal is to involve local businesses to help get the learning software into more locations. Business owners who would like to support the goals of Kintaro, and nonprofit organizations interested in applying the software, should visit, email or call 423-782-7584.