Written by Hanna Lee
The nonprofit First Book understands the value of teaching a child to read. By giving a book to children that he or she can call their own, the nonprofit provides a necessary tool towards success. Kyle Zimmer, a former corporate attorney, founded the organization 20 years ago. She was volunteering at a local Washington D.C. area soup kitchen, when she realized the need for children frequenting the soup kitchen to have their own books. Today, First Book is a nationally recognized program that has distributed over 90 million new books to children in need.
Zimmer set out with a simple mission: to put wonderful new books into the hands of children all across the United States. During the early stages of the program, she attended a book distribution in southern Ohio where a small 8-year-old boy struck her and defined the core of her mission. ‚ÄúThis little boy came running over to me, and in his thick southern accent he asked for a Spanish book,‚ÄĚ Zimmer recalls. ‚ÄúI thought, my goodness are you taking Spanish? And he said ‚Äėno, but I know that it‚Äôs out there and this is my big chance.‚ÄĚ Zimmer carried that little boy with her as inspiration because he understood that through books he‚Äôd have his chance to enter the world and learn.¬† As of today, Zimmer‚Äôs vision has expanded to serve more than 25,000 schools and local nonprofits registered with First Book, and over 500 new programs join each week.
The First Book Marketplace is available only to community programs and schools serving children in need.¬† There, community institutions on the ground can, access an array of high-quality new books at prices 50 to 90 percent below retail. Working with more than 90 leading publishers, and the organization assists in getting quality books into the hands of students in need across the country. Additionally, the First Book National Book Bank is a clearinghouse for publisher‚Äôs excess inventory, allowing publishers to donate large quantities of books ‚Äď for free ‚Äď to thousands of programs serving children in greatest need. Currently, 95% of First Book‚Äôs revenue goes directly to providing new books to kids in need.
First Book‚Äôs Communication Director, Brian Minter, is incredibly inspired by the concrete mission of the organization. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been to our book distributions, met with teachers and seen the kids react in the schools with visible excitement when they receive a new book,‚ÄĚ Minter says. ‚ÄúWe take books for granted in middle class households, but they are a real treasure to these kids.‚ÄĚ The nonprofit only distributes books that are brand new and mostly popular titles that likely will interest the children. First Book works with every major publisher in the country, who sell the books to the nonprofit at a discounted rates or donates them entirely. ‚ÄúTeachers or program leaders will request age appropriate books for their kids, and we try to accommodate them as much as possible,‚ÄĚ Minter explains. The organization aims to provide a valuable resource for schools and teachers so they kind find titles that might their curriculum goals at a lower price.
Any school that is classified as a Title I institution, which focuses on the academic achievement of the disadvantage, is eligible to receive books. ‚ÄúThese kids from low-income homes often only own secondhand and used items so it‚Äôs powerful and important for us to offer only new books,‚ÄĚ Minter says. He notes that people often don‚Äôt understand the significance of the problem of literacy and surprised to hear the number of kids First Book reaches. ‚ÄúThe low-income universe of kids we‚Äôre attempting to reach is huge! 27,000 schools and programs across the country and it‚Äôs only a fraction of who we want to reach,‚ÄĚ Minter says.
The majority of First Book‚Äôs funding is from corporate partnerships with companies that align literacy with their own efforts. Last year, the nonprofit donated over 8 million books for free. The organization‚Äôs efforts impacts Minter on a personal level every day. He recently attended an assembly for ‚ÄúRead Across America Day‚ÄĚ at a low-income school in Newark, NJ.¬† He was astounded by what he saw. ‚ÄúWe offered the kids a number of Dr. Seuss titles in honor of his birthday, and we were in an assembly room with 100 wound up kids, but as soon as they were handed the books all 100 of them sat down on the floor and started reading.‚ÄĚ
Teachers and program directors frequently keep in touch with the nonprofit to update them on the children‚Äôs progress. For six years, a principal of a Title I school in Texas has worked with First Book to distribute books throughout her school. She recently contacted Minter to inform him of the extraordinary impact the organization has had on her students. ‚ÄúShe came to school at 6:45 a.m. when it was still dark outside and saw a little boy sitting on the steps with a book in his hand,‚ÄĚ Minter recalls. ‚ÄúHe had just received the book through First Book and knew he couldn‚Äôt finish it at home because it was too noisy so he came to school to read in peace and quiet.‚ÄĚ
Although Minter and First Book are well aware that not every child will turn into a reader once handed a book, they know there are a lot of children who really do just need the incentive to read.¬† According to Minter ‚ÄúLiteracy and being a strong reader is the number one indicator of whether or not a kid will do a good job in school. All they require to get started is a book.‚ÄĚ
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