No. 593



We have all heard the saying, "You must have a dream before you can have a dream come true." In my case, I have something far greater than a dream. I have a vision ... a vision for literacy in America. Only God knows if my vision will ever become reality, but I am working as hard as I can and many, many wonderful people are lending a hand. For this I shall be eternally grateful. In the national interest, if you will allow me to share it, I would like to tell you my thinking and how we are going about the uphill battle of improving literacy in this great nation.

You may or may not know that at one time the United States of America led the world in test scores of reading, math and science. Now, according to a study conducted by the Campaign for America's Children, we rank 18th out of 21 industrialized nations. There are many reasons for this, but based on my own assessment, we have fallen to this level because vast numbers of parents are no longer reading to their children in the home environment, especially in their formative years. In 1955, 81 percent of parents read to or with their children. Today, that number has plummeted to around 21 percent of parents who take the time to read to their children on a regular and ongoing basis.

The greatest at-risk children are those who are being reared in low-income homes because, according to statistics, 61 percent of these parents do not own any books. This is where our "Bookcase for Every Child" project that we started in 2005 here in Conway, Arkansas, is so vital. As an all "volunteer" project, we are building many of these children a quality, personalized, oak bookcase, giving them a "starter set" of children's books and then reading to them each week in our local Head Start Centers.

We are making a difference. I have just learned that in the very first year since our project began, the number of books checked out by parents from the centers' Lending Libraries has increased by 76 percent. That's three times as many books over the previous year checked out by parents to read to their children at home. Many of us on our committee believe we may have the best and most unique literacy project ever developed in America.

We can make this statement for several valid reasons. First, our project is focused on parents reading to their children at home. Secondly, we are focusing on children who are most at risk, those in low-income families. Thirdly, we have an annual awards ceremony to present the bookcases and books to the children and their parents. We demonstrate and show them our love, and this helps to build self-esteem and a sense of value in both children and their parents. The rewards to our community and our nation will come later down the road in terms of less crime, illegal drug use and much-improved civility.

And then, there is another valid reason why our project is so special. We only use volunteers and no tax money or government grants. This project is funded primarily by the sale of my book "Learning, Earning & Giving Back," as I am giving 100 percent of the proceeds to improve literacy. The book, with a gold literacy seal in the front of each one, serves to create awareness and also those who purchase copies knowing where the proceeds are going have a sense of "ownership" in the project. Our Web site:

My vision for literacy in America is to have a "Bookcase for Every Child" project taking place in hundreds of communities all across the nation, with the goal to have a more literate population in each one. In reality, just as a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, no communities' future is any brighter than its literacy rate.

We honor and support our schools and teachers and want to help these small 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children from low-income families have an opportunity to share in the American dream. ---

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034. To support literacy, buy his book, "Learning, Earning & Giving Back.")