Since 2006 Books To Kids volunteers have distributed free, quality books to disadvantaged children in Louisiana, Tennessee, and most recently, rural Kentucky. As of August 2014 over 148,000 books have been provided to children through schools, families, community centers and libraries.
Books To Kids was started by Nashville, Tennessee resident Jim Selin, who had assisted Plenty in relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Jim saw first hand the devastation experienced by families in New Orleans and wanted to help.
Books To Kids is a way to help children move beyond trauma, cope with the difficulties of economically challenged neighborhoods, and ultimately, to increase their academic success.
Books To Kids promotes literacy and a love of reading. With these skills, children are better equipped to make informed life choices. The program focuses on children up to age 11. These are the years when a child’s academic foundation can have its most powerful effect on both the child and their family.
Thirty four percent of the children in New Orleans live in poverty; the national average is 20%. (Source: Annie Casey Foundation Kids Count 2011). Poverty and early stress impact not only a child’s day-to-day life, but also the choices and opportunities she or he has to create future happiness and success.
Most of the children served by Books To Kids live below the poverty level, with the vast majority on the free or reduced lunch program at school. In short we strive to reach those in greatest need. Over 7000 kids are served annually by Books To Kids.
Book acquisition operates year round. Books provided are chosen utilizing guidelines regarding illustrations, language, and content. Over 20 volunteers help with acquisition, distribution and related tasks. Volunteers:
- Acquire quality books from libraries, families, thrift and used book stores, yard sales, and other sources.
- Process, box and label books for distribution.
- Transport the books to schools and community centers, which distribute the free reading materials directly to children.
About four distribution runs to the Gulf coast area, Middle Tennessee and Appalachia take place annually. Current Gulf Coast distribution sites include
- Arise Academy Charter School, New Orleans
- Mildred Osborne Elementary School, New Orleans
- Boothville-Venice Elementary School, LA
- Arabi Community Center, LA
- Point Aux Chenes community, LA
- The Lower Ninth Ward Literacy project, New Orleans
- Isle de Jean Charles families, LA
- Abney Elementary School, Slidell LA
Current Middle Tennessee sites include the Maternal and Infant Health Outreach Worker site (MIHOW) at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Nashville, Highland Park Elementary School in Columbia, The Farm School and Kids To The Country program in Summertown.
Sites in rural east Tennessee and Kentucky include Mountain Communities Parent Resource Center/Wynn Habersham Elementary School in Campbell County, Tennessee, and the Books To Kids Reading and Tutoring Center in Williamsburg, Kentucky. The Center also distributes books to elementary schools in Whitley County, Kentucky.
Research has demonstrated the correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and their academic success. That is why the majority of Books To Kids books, while distributed in schools, are destined for students’ homes, to be shared with family and friends.
Some books are donated to school libraries and some are used in accelerated reading programs.
Volunteers in Tennessee and New Orleans keep building new relationships with school principals, community center directors, and other children’s programs that suggest additional sites where books are needed and will be distributed.
Maria Prout, Principal of Boothville-Venice Elementary School says:
”When Jim brings books we organize them and set them out on a table in the library with a sign that says “Free Books from Mr. Jim”. We encourage the teachers to take their classes to see the books.
The children are then able to take home books they select. Since we’ve been able to build up our school library, we wanted to give the kids the opportunity to actually take books home.
The teachers work with the kids on how to organize their home libraries according to genre, author. Sometimes a student will bring back one of the books that they particularly liked to offer them to other kids or ask their teacher to read it to the class.
I would like to see more books from Plenty because our big push right now is literacy. The more we can get books into the hands of the parents that they can read to their kids and the more we can get books into the hands of the kids, the better our community is going to be.”
Dawn LaFonte, Principal:
”Thank you so much for the visit and the books you graciously brought to Pointe aux Chene and Oaklawn Jr. High. The students were delighted to have them. We frequently have visits at Oaklawn Jr. High by students who are mentally and physically impaired.
The law states that they must be included on a regular school campus, which delights me. However, we frequently don’t have materials on their level.
Your last drop of books to me had several wonderful Indian stories on their level. We shared them in the library and they were so excited!
The regular students in the library were excited to read to the challenged students as well. That was a blessing I did not think I would see!
Thank you for making such an important difference in the lives of our students. It means so much!”
Taking into account all expenses of acquisition, transportation and distribution, each book is provided to a child at a cost of approximately 55 cents.
Our greatest need is to add more volunteers and funding to continue and grow Books To Kids. Your donations and support are greatly appreciated!