No. 511


A 'Gently Used' Book Drive

From the earliest days of our nation's history, the favored class of people has always been those who were the best educated and well read. In the beginning, when most people lived on the farm and produced most of their own needs, education for the masses was not that critical. However, as we moved from an agricultural society to an industrial society, to a technological society and now to the age of information, education is at a premium and the person without a good education is severely penalized.

Today in our country there is a group of several million people who, through no fault of their own, are severely penalized when it comes to getting a quality education. All of us who are literate and have achieved some measure of success can do something about it. I'm talking about children and young people who are reared in low-income homes. If literacy and education is indeed the key to success, here is a statistic that may surprise you. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, (1996) 61 percent of low-income families have no books at all in their homes. I realize this stat is a little out of date, but I doubt that it's changed very much up to the present time.

The community where I live is a leader in many ways, but what I'm going to talk about can be done anywhere in our country and I hope you will give some serious thought to what I am going to say. As I write this column, we already have a committee of 14 of our leading citizens who are committed to building a quality bookcase for a large group of these children and youth and each bookcase will be personalized with the child's name on it. Obviously, to give them an empty bookcase is not enough. We want to provide them with some quality children's books to add to or begin their own personal library.

The idea here is not to give a child or young person a bookcase filled with books, but rather to provide a starter set and the beginning of a personal library that will be built and developed over a period of several years as the child matures and grows into adulthood. We also want to develop a program where college students who are interested in community service can work with these children along with older adults who can provide love, leadership and encouragement. I can see the day when we have an adopt-a-grandparent program in place where senior adults can buy their special child a book for Christmas or their birthday.

Those of us who are working on this project are realistic enough to know that we won't reach every child with the message of reading for success, but my good friend Mickey Cox gave me an insight that I had never thought about before. He said if we just reach 20 percent of these children in the next generation we will reach 40 percent as these children grow up, become parents, and understand what reading has meant to them in their own life. I might add that Mickey Cox, along with a number of others, are great craftsmen and we have a good number of beautiful, oak bookcases already produced, so this is not something we are just thinking about. It's something we are doing.

But back to my focus for this column, a "Gently Used" book drive. The idea came from Jaletta Desmond, our literacy chairperson over in Bluefield, W. Va. She has already conducted a "Gently Used" book drive there and the results have been fantastic. As she points out, "Like a pair of shoes or a winter coat, our children outgrow books and we probably have books on our shelves that are collecting dust, because we won't read them a second time. These books can certainly be put to good use by many families who are struggling to put food on the table and shoes on their feet, and books, unfortunately, have to take a back seat."

Regarding the "Bookcase for Every Child" and "Gently Used" book drive under way here in my own community, the response has been wonderful. Everyone I have talked with has all kinds of good children's books for ages 2 to 18 they are finished with and say they would be delighted to contribute them. One quick word about quality, we want wholesome books, not necessarily religious books, although they should be welcome, but books that have stories and concepts that embody character and moral values. What good does it do to teach a child to read, if later in life they wind up in prison because we did not care enough to teach them the importance of character.

When it comes to helping children and young people from low-income homes acquire a thirst for reading, learning and getting a good education, here is something we would all do well to remember, "A hundred years from now it will not matter ... what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, what kind of car I drove, ... but the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child."

(Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)