As the program director for The Bookmobile, Kim Dennis is determined to boost childhood literacy in the midst of COVID-19. The pandemic has drastically altered the outreach’s operations — halting physical fundraisers and its mobile library — but volunteers still remain steadfast in their goal to spark an interest in reading among area youth.
“To achieve our mission of improving literacy through increasing access to books, The Bookmobile has pivoted our methods during COVID-19 by providing children with prebagged, new, age-appropriate books from April until now,” Dennis said. “The feedback and gratitude from parents and children were so positive that we hope to continue this service until we can safely open The Bookmobile once again as a mobile lending library. From April through the end of July, The Bookmobile distributed 3,079 new books to Bartow County’s children.”
To support its efforts, The Bookmobile launched the Adopt-A-Reader campaign July 15. For a monthly contribution of $10, donors will enable a child to receive three new books each month.
Valerie Gilreath, president of The Bookmobile's board of directors, noted the fundraising drive was “necessitated” by COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in the cancellation of a pair of benefits — originally scheduled for May and August — that were expected to generate $20,000.
“The purpose of the Adopt-A-Reader program is to ensure that children in Bartow County have quality, fun, age-appropriate books to read at home so they continue to develop important language and literacy skills,” Gilreath said. “Children receive a bundle of materials each time they visit, which is hopefully once a month.
“The bundle includes a minimum of three books and a bookmark. When available, we also include an activity book, coloring book or children’s magazine. We have materials for all ages birth to 18, and we typically group them in ranges of 0-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-plus,” she said, adding the book bundles are handled out at numerous events and locations across Bartow.
To donate, those interested need to visit https://donorbox.org/adopt-a-reader or text 181086 to 1-855-575-7888. As of Thursday afternoon, the website reported the campaign has raised $241.54 out of its $1,000 goal.
“Adopt-A-Reader is a monthly giving program, so donors donate $10 initially and commit to continue donating $10 each month,” Dennis said. “Our hope is that givers participate for at least a year. Our goal is to have 100 readers adopted, which is equal to $1,000 per month.
“Donors have the option of adopting more than one reader if they want to give more. To date, 22 readers have been adopted. We are excited to announce that Garth Gherardini secured a matching grant for us from Modern Woodmen of America, and they will match funds raised in August up to $1,000.”
Established in July 2017, The Bookmobile initially centered its efforts in south Bartow and later extended its service area. Last year, 152 new Bookmobile library cards were issued, 700 books were checked out and 3,610 books were distributed to families.
“Studies have shown time and again the most significant factor influencing a child’s early school success is an exposure to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school,” Gilreath said. “The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print.
“The best way to increase a child’s access to print is to ensure the family has books in the home. Books they own and live with that become a regular part of their environment.”
Due to COVID-19, Gilreath shared the significance of this is “compounded.”
“Children may not have access to their school libraries or the public library right now, or parents may be wary of visiting these public spaces and utilizing public resources due to the risk of infection,” she said. “Through Adopt-A-Reader, The Bookmobile can put three books into a child’s hands each month when they visit.
“That act alone, the insistence of treating books as an essential resource, reinforces the value of reading to both the child and parent. Books offer so much that is particularly needed right now. A good story is entertainment, comfort, distraction.”
For more information about The Bookmobile, visit http://readingtogoplaces.org or its Facebook page. Dennis shared they also are looking to partner with organizations offering services to youth. If any of these groups would like to have books distributed at their programs, The Bookmobile can be reached via Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“These past few months have been trying times for everyone, particularly children,” Dennis said. “Through The Bookmobile, we attempt to bring not just books, but joy, compassion and love to kids. Supporting the Adopt-A-Reader program will allow this mission to continue.”