It has been said that many people spend a lifetime trying to climb the ladder of success, only to find out too late, that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. This is to say that we can spend a lot of unproductive time working on the wrong problems. The focus of our “Bookcase for Every Child” project is four-year old children who are being reared in low-income or disadvantaged homes. These are the children who are at the greatest risk of dropping out of school, making poor choices, and missing most of the opportunities that come to other children from educated and affluent homes. For too long we have blamed our schools for failing these children, when the main reason is the breakdown of the home, and parents failing in their responsibility to help prepare their children to enter school and to have high expectations. When you understand that in 1955, 81% of parents read to or with their children in the home, and today that number if around 29%, you have some insight as to why this is true.
The result of this sharp decline is that a high percentage of these children enter our public schools with a limited vocabulary, and lack of language and communication skills necessary to stay in school, graduate, and achieve success. A great resource is Dr. Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” She is the foremost U.S. expert on the mindsets of poverty, middle class, and wealth. Many of these children from disadvantaged homes also face other challenges such as being reared in a single-parent home and having one or both parents who are functionally illiterate. This is why it is important for volunteers to read to these children on a regular basis. By having one of your committee members take the lead, this is one activity that can be taking place early on in your project, along about the time you are having a book drive, well in advance of your Bookcase Literacy Banquet and Annual Awards Ceremony.
Here in Conway we work with our local Head Start Program because they have the special children we want to serve. In communities that do not have a Head Start Program, there is usually an ABC program for pre-school children in the public schools. In some towns and cities the program for pre-school, low-income children, may be called by another name. It is important to have the director, as we have, to be on your committee and to establish a good working relationship with him or her. Without the children you don’t have a bookcase project, of course. But these fine people will welcome you with open-arms because of the challenges they face. They need all the help they can get. These children also crave love and affection, something we all need in our lives.
Once this fundamental knowledge is understood, there are two main areas that must be addressed to achieve success. The first is to have a good “reading coordinator,” and the other is to have a source of willing and competent people who will read to the children. After having a couple of good volunteer reading coordinators, we have found the best person to handle this activity is someone on the Head Start or school staff. They already know the children, and their parents, and they have access to schedules, and the best days and times to read to them. They can also select the best, age-appropriate, books for the children to read. This person can usually handle the details if they are provided with a list of volunteer readers, along with their phone number and e-mail addresses. We have about seventy-five people, from a broad cross-section of the community, on our list, and most are willing to work out a schedule when they can come to the centers and read to the children.
The next area is to find volunteer readers who are willing to participate and read to the children. It is important to understand that we are seeking many people who may have never been involved in a literacy project before, but who are good readers and love to work with children. You should start with an article in your local newspaper to let your fellow citizens know that you need their help. Give the objectives, along with dates, times and locations and contact phone number or e-mail address of one of your committee members. If there is a university, college, or other institution of higher education in your community, many students, coaches, athletes, and faculty members will be more than willing to help. Don’t overlook the retired teachers in your community who may be looking for ways to give back. Also, some of your other committee members may wish to read and they probably have a lot of family and friends who would love to read as well.