If you have read my column for very long you know that my passion is literacy. Several years ago I came to the stark realization that without good literacy skills, a person in our modern society does not have a prayer with regards to achieving success. Being able to read and write and communicate effectively is the basis for all education. And I don’t have to tell you that our nation has lost ground over the past several decades with regards to having a highly literate population. Most adversely affected are children being reared in low-income families, because most don’t have any books in the home for their children to read.
Here in our community, a group of my fellow citizens have addressed this need by providing a free, handcrafted bookcase and a starter set of books to children enrolled in our local Head Start program. For a child to be enrolled in Head Start, family income must fall below the poverty level. In communities where a Head Start program does not exist, here in Arkansas we have what is called an ABC program. These families have incomes a little higher than Head Start but still need help to improve literacy. It may be called something different in your state.
Since beginning in 2005, our Bookcase for Every Child project has proliferated and is now being used in several other communities, here in Arkansas and in four other states. I might add, no person associated with our project personally earns a penny. It is all about giving back.
On April 13, we reached a milestone in Conway by giving our 500th bookcase since the project began. But this year was special for another reason, thus the title, "The Best of Both Worlds." If you keep up with literacy programs at all, you are no doubt familiar with an international literacy initiative by Dolly Parton called The Imagination Library. Children enrolled in this program receive a different book each month through the U.S. Mail until they are 5 years of age.
In our bookcase project, we don’t buy any books as they are all donated, but the Dolly Parton Imagination Library requires a $25 per year, per child, investment, and this money is raised locally in a variety of ways. On our local committee we are blessed to have a wonderful lady, who also emcees our banquets, by the name of Dr. Charlotte Green. Dr. Green is employed by the Conway School District, and she is also the director of the Arkansas Preschool Plus program — a state affiliate for the Dolly Parton program. This year, for the first time, she has enrolled all 50 of our children who received bookcases in the Dolly Parton program, and by awards ceremony time, they had already received their first book.
Now, here is my reason for sharing this with you. I truly believe America could once again have the highest literacy rates in the world if cities and towns all across America had both our bookcase project and the Dolly Parton program. Our project would supply a free hand-crafted, personalized bookcase and a starter set of books, and then the Dolly Parton program would take over and send each child a different book each month until their fifth birthday.
If you are willing to help and get involved, please go to our website: www.bookcaseforeverychild.com and study it. All it takes is leadership and the right people and it can be done. We have done it here, and I know if we can do it most every other community can do it as well. I might add, the focus is on parents. Please contact me by e-mail if you have comments or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. We are serious about making a difference.
(Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit www.bookcaseforeverychild.com. You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)