s you know, the United States Marine Corps is always looking for a few good men. Well, we are looking for several hundred thousand good men and women who love kids -- especially those being reared in low-income families in our country. These are the kids who are at the greatest risk of dropping out of school, being illiterate, and causing the greatest problems for the rest of society. According to the National Right to Read Foundation, there are 42 million American adults who cannot read at all. These adults at one time were also kids, and most of them grew up in low-income homes where, according to statistics, 61 percent do not have any books to read. Without books to read in their formative years, these underprivileged kids enter school with a limited vocabulary, and lack basic communication skills that are vital to success and staying in school.
lease consider: What kind of life does a young person have in our society today who is illiterate and who has dropped out of school? I am sure you know the answer to this question, and that is why we must all work together to improve this epidemic national problem if our nation is to continue be a world leader in providing the best quality of life for our citizens. When it comes to improving literacy, our “Bookcase for Every Child” project that we started here in Conway, Arkansas in 2005 has never been done before, in the history of our nation. Each year, through our collective efforts, we build fifty quality, personalized bookcases and give them, along with a starter set of books, to four-year old children enrolled in the Head Start program. We also have volunteers who read to these children each week at the centers.
he fundamental difference in our project is the focus we place in getting large numbers of people personally involved from throughout the community, rather than trying to raise money from grants or a corporate sponsor. Since the inception of our project we have had between 2,000 and 3,000 people personally involved in one way or another. As time passes, we plan to have that number grow to five thousand, ten thousand and beyond. Over the past several decades we have spent billions of dollars on education in our nation’s public schools, and the rate of return has been dismal.
e are an all-volunteer, committee-led organization and use no tax money or grants of any kind. We are NOT a 501 (C) 3 organization and therefore have no expenses such as salaries, rent, utilities, telephones, supplies, and other expenses. We are all about “Giving Back” and no one earns a penny for their time, talent, or resources. We raise the funds to purchase materials to build the bookcases during an annual Bookcase Literacy Banquet. We have had three so far and raised all the funds we need just from a $15.95 banquet ticket that includes a delicious meal, quality entertainment, and a complimentary copy of the New Revised Edition of the founder’s book, “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”
ur volunteers decorate the banquet room at a public school cafeteria with a literacy theme, grill the sausage, work in the kitchen and make home-made desserts. We have approximately forty students, on a rotating basis, from our three area high schools, serve the meal. This is a great community service experience for these students. We had a sell-out crowd this past year and our twenty-nine “table sponsors” of eight seats each, included seven banks, four elected officials, three civic clubs, three churches, and a number of businesses and individuals. Our guests were also treated to some great, local, standing-ovation entertainment.
o pay for the cost of the food, we invite about thirty prominent members of our community to become members of The Bookcase Club and make non-tax deductible contributions of fifty dollars each year. This allows many interested citizens who may not be able to physically participate because of health, schedule, or other reasons, to be involved. This provides a way for them to help and feel good about being a part of improving literacy in our community.
e have volunteer craftsmen construct the bookcases which are presented to our children at our annual Awards Ceremony. The children and their parents are our special guests. We have a formal program, taking less than an hour, that consists of an invocation, presentation of colors (JROTC members from the high school), pledge of allegiance, welcome by a dignitary, keynote address, presentation of bookcases to children, closing remarks by the chairman (to thank those who have gone above and beyond to make the project a success), and a closing benediction.
ith each succeeding year comes an opportunity to reach out to more and more people and to ask them to become personally involved in the project. These people can be found in churches, civic clubs, business and professional groups, the business community, and federal-state-local agencies. Especially important are literate people who understand the importance of helping these disadvantaged children to develop literacy skills. The focus is on reading and literacy, and all of us working together can make a tremendous difference.
ur copyrighted project has become highly successful because we have great people on our Central Committee; our news media (newspaper, television, and radio) have made everyone aware of the need to improve literacy. Because our project is grass-roots, we encourage parents, grandparents, and everyone who influences children to get involved in the project.
his is an overview of the project, to highlight the need. In the following sections we flesh out the various parts for you. We want to make it simple and completely understandable, where any progressive community can establish their own project, and have it up and running in short order.