This question is posed by First Book-Greater Akron, part of a national nonprofit organization with a mission to give children from low-income families the opportunity to discover the magic of reading and owning their first new books.
“This program makes a tremendous impact by providing age appropriate books to children, especially pre-school. It’s important to start reading early,” said Chuck Bell, chair of the area’s advisory board.
Bell said the Akron chapter of First Book began in fall of 2005 with the creation of an advisory board, now comprising more than 50 volunteers with about 18 active members. The board’s responsibility is to generate funding in order to provide books to kids ranging from toddlers to teens.
“Our group comes from all different walks of life,” Bell said. “We have current and retired school teachers and other members of the community who are interested in providing books to kids.”
First Book-Greater Akron distributes 16,000 to 18,000 new books a year. Organizations that include a literacy component as well as schools are able to apply for a book grant explaining their needs, whether it is books for toddlers or for high school students. Bell said the Akron group sees many second and third grade levels applying for the grants, and many of the authors they enjoy include Dr. Seuss and Judy Blume.
Kathy Crawford, LRC technician at Robinson Community Learning Center, received one of these books grants, which provided each student in kindergarten and first grade five new books. Many of the students are in an area of economic disadvantage.
“The books received from First Book offer our families the opportunity to create a positive learning environment that they may not be afforded otherwise,” she said. “Students are able to have their own personal library at home to help them with fluency and to share their love of reading with other family members.”
First Book-Greater Akron’s distribution days is a popular time for students to receive their books and for Bell, this is one of his favorite days to be a part of the program. He said many of the children will make an effort to be at school on that day.
Crawford added, “The students are so excited when they get to choose quality books of their interest. They love to discuss the books they have chosen with each other. The excitement has carried over into their book selection when visiting the library.”
The books these students received also aid in participation of other literacy efforts organizations and schools create. For example, the students at Robinson CLC participate in a program entitled 100 Book Challenge, which encourages students to read both at school and at home every day.
“The books from First Book provide more choices for the students to help them reach their reading goals,” Crawford said. “We are truly thankful for the First book grant and all the joy it has provided for our students.”
First Book-Greater Akron has a goal to increase the literacy in Akron’s schools. Bell said that during the last year, 29 second-grade students who received First Book were tracked for literacy competency, and within this group, the students’ oral reading fluency increased on an average 23.4 percent over the mean level for the grade.
Their nonsense words fluency (NWF) numbers rose on average of 37.3 percent. The NWF measure is a standardized, individually administered test of the alphabetic principal. It includes letter-sound correspondence in which letters represent their most common sounds and of the ability to blend letters into words in which letters represent their most common sounds.
The agency is always looking for donations of new books or money to purchase new books. The group does take used books, but these donations are unrelated to what goes on in the national office, because First Book requires all books to be brand new for books grants, distributions days and other handouts.
Bell said the advisory group is always looking for people to donate new books, or to fundraise and/or donate funds for the purchase of reading materials.
“I believe in this cause and the impact it provides,” Bell said. “Statistics are no longer statistics when you go out into the community and see what’s happening. It’s putting a face on poverty.”
For more information, visit the First Book-Greater Akron website, http://www.firstbook.org.