PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard and many of his Phillies teammates made the most of their off day on Monday.
Autographed memorabilia lined the walls of the cocktail reception and purple and blue hues set the mood in Franklin Hall for an evening dedicated to promoting children's literacy as Howard and his wife, Krystle, hosted their second annual "Stand Up For Literacy" event at The Franklin Institute to benefit The Ryan Howard Big Piece Foundation.
Howard's teammates including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Marlon Byrd were in attendance for a plated dinner, live and silent auctions, music and a comedy set by Comedy Central's Tommy Johnagin, one of the stars of NBC's "Last Comic Standing."
"It's huge for us," Howard said. "Especially on an off day, to be able to have my teammates spend their off day coming in and help to support. All the sponsors and everybody else that comes. It's huge."
The Foundation's website provides a quote from Main Line Media News on its front page to make clear what's at stake: "Every state prison in PA is required to have a library and a librarian with a Master's Degree, but there is no such requirement for our schools. Next year, nearly all Philadelphia elementary school children will return to school without a library."
The Howards' background in education has dictated their passion to make a difference in the lives of children who are prone to illiteracy.
"Education's always been first and foremost in my family and it's always been first foremost with Krystle," Howard said. "If a child isn't able to read by the third grade, the chances of them being able to graduate high school are much less likely. So it's an opportunity to give back and we cherish it."
Krystle is a former second grade teacher and Howard grew up in a home that had an education-first mindset. Understanding just how important it is to get children reading at an early age paved the way for the Foundation's pilot program -- Ryan's Reading Challenge -- last fall
At the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, The Ryan Howard Big Piece Foundation paired with Vare-Washington Elementary of the Philadelphia School District to challenge students -- ages kindergarten through third-grade -- to read 20 minutes a day, seven days a week.
"Our goal was to go into a school and find out what they're missing or what they're in need of. In this case, the school was missing a library," Krystle said.
The children at Vare-Washington successfully completed the challenge and were rewarded with a $75,000 academic grant that went toward the creation and completion of a new library that the Foundation named Howard's Homeroom. The Foundation's website describes the library as a "special oasis" within that school that is an "interactive, baseball-themed reading room filled with hundreds of books, comfortable reading nooks, desktop computers, and iPads for students to read, create, and dream."
"For us, it was something to try and help give them those building blocks to achieve at the next level," Howard said.
But this is only the start for Ryan and Krystle, who, with more events like Monday night's "Stand Up For Literacy event," envision the The Ryan Howard Big Piece Foundation continuing to raise awareness, funds and action toward engaging children with literature.
"The first year we were so proud of," Krystle said. "All the students were really into the program, and everyone was really supportive. We'll just take it as it comes and hopefully we can continue this for years to come."
"Hopefully it can continue to blossom and just grow a little bit each year," Howard said. "We can hopefully take it from one school to the next and hopefully even venture into other states."
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com.