Giving Conversation with Jolynne Bartley and the Gus Bus


The Chik-fil-A Foundation awarded $75,000 to James Madison University’s Reading Road Show Gus Bus. We caught up with Jolynne Bartley, Assistant Director of Children and Youth Services at JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, to hear about her enthusiasm for the gift and the program.



Q:  For starters, what is the Reading Road Show (more affectionately known as the Gus Bus)?

Established in 2003, The Gus Bus is a mobile literacy program that serves Harrisonburg City and Page County. The initial goal was to help young students become readers early on before entering kindergarten. Our program has grown to reach all of K-5 elementary levels serving 14 neighborhood sites a week.

The crux of the program is the mobile aspect. Accessibility is what makes this program unique; we want to meet students where they are. Our two “Gus Buses” are essentially box trucks that have been converted into class spaces. Literary specialists plan lessons around children’s literature and go in to neighborhoods to teach these lessons. Our small staff does it all from planning and teaching lessons to driving the busses.

We also work with a large number of JMU volunteers. With our small, grant-funded staff, having those student volunteers really helps support the program.

The Gus Bus objective is to make reading and education fun for students outside of school. In turn, hopefully students carry a positive and attitude towards reading and learning into their schools.

Q:  Chik-fil-A’s “True Inspiration Award” has a unique process. How did your program come to be involved with the award?

Harrisonburg’s local Chik-fil-A nominated the Reading Road Show Gus Bus for the award, as they thought we were an organization doing great work in the community. Once we were confirmed as a finalist, voting on the Chik-fil-A app began to determine the winner for the northeast region. JMU and Chik-fil-A did share this information through social media channels as well as being featured on the local news, but we like to think it was the JMU-Harrisonburg and surrounding community that really contributed to us receiving this award.

Q: Gus Bus and Chik-fil-A also partner on the “Touch a Truck” program in Harrisonburg?

Yes, it’s a great way for us to gain alternative exposure and for us to inform and educate the public who may not be familiar with us on how we serve the community. Chik-fil-A plans this fundraiser as a way for first responders and other community service organizations to come to Chik-fil-A and raise awareness and money for their work. The Gus Bus usually receives $1,000-$2,000 in donations on that day.

Q:  In what way do you hope this gift will affect the Reading Road Show Program?

I am hoping it will help us to expand. We do rely on vehicles for our program to be successful, and while that enables the program to serve the community in a great way, it also brings along maintenance and upkeep. The potential to have a third Gus Bus to extend our reach into the community during a one week span would be fantastic. Our program pays for gas, maintenance, etc. from our grant fund. My hope, if I am just thinking really grand here, would be to have someone buy or give us a bus. That would be great!

Check out another feature highlighting the Gus Bus and their $75,000 award, here.

This content was developed in collaboration with the JMU Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations (CFR). CFR seeks to maximize contributions and other support to James Madison University from corporations and foundations by creating, maintaining and enhancing mutually beneficial relationships between the two. Relating to and collaborating with business, industry and private foundations is essential to fostering a culture that unites philanthropic desires with university priorities.

Written by Christopher Pence, Development Assistant, Corporate and Foundation Relations, JMU.

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