‘I AM’ shares the gift of reading

By Amy Lynne Bowes

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” Dr. Seuss wrote in “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

Steve Viglione, founder and CEO of The I AM Foundation, seems to have taken the words to heart as he tries to influence today’s world through his books and foundation, which gives books and music to children and adults worldwide.

“I wanted to do something that would make an impact for this generation of children,” Viglione said.

His I AM Foundation, a registered 501©3 educational non-profit, was founded in 1998.

“We stand for children and building their self-esteem and literacy,” Viglione said.

The organization’s name was chosen because Viglione believes “I AM” is an affirmation that helps children and adults to value positive aspects of themselves.

“We want to inspire and empower children,” said Viglione’s wife Marilyn Powers, Ph.D. Psychology who serves as vice president of the board of directors for the foundation.

“What children learn in elementary grades can determine their attitudes of themselves and the world,” Powers said.

Viglione and Powers, both La Jolla residents, focus the I AM Foundation not only on a local and national level, but also a worldwide level.

About two years after a tsunami affected Sri Lanka, the foundation sent 70,000 books and school supplies to the region.

Viglione credits Jeff Goonewardena, Consul General for Sri Lanka to Columbia and Venezuela, for organizing the whole adventure.

Viglione and Powers were invited to Sri Lanka in late 2006 and met with Shiranthi Rajapakse, first lady of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.

“Jeff spent two years organizing everything,” Viglione said.

The I AM Affirmation Book: Discovering the Value of Who You Are was printed in Sri Lanka in three different languages – English, Tamil and Sinhalese.

The foundation also reached out to Hurricane Katrina victims and gifted 4,000 books to children. Goonewardena helped further by coordinating 6,000 more books.

“We want to build bridges of peace,” Powers said.

Viglione’s children’s books have now been translated into seven languages - English, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Hindi, Tamil, Sinhelese. An eighth, Portuguese, is on the way.

Claudia Klaus, president of San Diego National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), is printing the Portuguese edition.

Klaus will be participating in a book-gifting mission this year to her native Brazil with the newly published Portuguese translations.

To date, the I AM Foundation has gifted 700,000 books nation-and worldwide to 30 countries.

The foundation also organizes an annual dinner through the 100 Points of Light Campaign.

Marilyn Tam will speak at the dinner May 14. Tam is a corporate leader, speaker, corporate consultant and author. Her background includes executive roles at several companies - CEO of Aveda, president of Reebok Apparel & Retail Group and vice president of Nike.

Tam is also a director on the national board of SCORE Association. SCORE is the Resource Partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The I AM Foundation also focuses efforts locally to Head Start programs and elementary schools. The Foundation recently focused its efforts locally after fires affected San Diego County.

“Since moving here in 1999, we’ve helped through dozens of organizations in the San Diego Unified School District, " Viglione said.

The I AM Foundation organizes “I AM Affirmation Days” at schools locally and around the country.

The program is usually sponsored by a group or individual at $5 per child. According to Powers, the two- to three-hour program can be offered in the morning or afternoon, depending on the location. The foundation also invites the media.

“These days are for building self-esteem and expanding literacy,” Powers said. “We focus on what’s right with children and empower them to value their gifts.”

“We believe every child in the world is important and valuable regardless of who they are or where they live. We know that when children discover their value, they bring their value to the world.”

To learn more about the I AM Foundation, go to the foundation’s Web site at