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Nonprofit CEO Says Books Still Matter in a Digital Age

Baltimore Reads
Baltimore Reads
If you are reading this column, I am certain that you grew up in an environment in which children’s books were readily available.
 
You gnawed on the edges of your first baby books and had an attentive adult read “Goodnight Moon.” At school, your librarian highlighted the annual Newberry and Caldecott award winners.
 
You advanced through the “Baby-Sitter’s Club,” “Brixton Brothers,” “Call of the Wild” and “Catcher in the Rye.” The ambitious among you also trudged successfully through biology, literature, sociology, psychology, torts, physics, French and numerous other tomes that instructors assigned along your educational pathway.
 
By now you have joined the Kindle nation, the blogosphere and remember a newspaper as something that grandpa read after it arrived on the doorstep each morning. And, in spite of your current preference for online reading materials, there remains throughout your home actual books and magazines, some perhaps fondly retained from your childhood.
 
Throughout Baltimore City, there are children who will never join the ranks of the well read, nor will they even read well. Thousands of kids have no books at all in their homes or classrooms, nothing they keep, enjoy and call their own.
 
Baltimore Reads’ Book Bank, celebrating its 20th year in 2012, provides thousands of free books annually to educationally disadvantaged families and children. Every year we help more than 500 schoolteachers build their classroom libraries so that their students have a book of their own to take home. Last year, the Book Bank distributed 96,231 books to more than than 1,000 visitors to the Book Bank.
 
Baltimore Reads was pleased to partner with the Weinberg Foundation last month to manage their Library Project book drive. More than 40 community partners collected thousands of new kids’ books to help stock the four city school libraries that the Library Project is renovating. The Library Project is a bold step to increase literacy in Baltimore City among children and their parents.
 
Students (particularly those who come from poor families) who participate in book distribution programs improve in reading performance, are motivated to read and find enjoyment and inspiration in reading. They achieve better basic language skills, such as the ability to express themselves verbally and understand spoken language. Book distribution programs help to level the playing field.
 
Literacy challenges that aren’t addressed in children grow into adulthood problems. According to the most current U.S. Census data, more than 100,000 adults in the Greater Baltimore area do not hold a high school diploma. It is estimated that 14 percent of the U.S. adult population does not read well enough to fill out a job application. In Baltimore, 16 percent of our adult population lacks even the most basic literacy skills. This should be of concern to area employers who want to tap a well-educated workforce to remain competitive.
 
Baltimore Reads was founded in 1988 as a resource for adult and family literacy in Baltimore. In addition to a free book bank for kids, the nonprofit provides free classes in reading/writing, mathematics, GED prep and English as a Second Language for adults.
 
One of Baltimore Reads’ adult students, Athena, who pursued her GED in our classes, says the programs helped her raise smarter kids.
 
“Now, I can help my children with their homework and feel good about it. It feels good to know that I can supply my kids with the correct answer,” Athena says.
 
This year’s Books for Kids Day is Saturday May 5, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and our book bank is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact Baltimore Reads for more information.
 
Shirley Bigley LaMotte is CEO of Baltimore Reads




PHOTOS:

Donated books at Baltimore Reads.

Baltimore Reads volunteers.

Shirley Bigley LaMotte, CEO of Baltimore Reads.

All photographs courtesy of Baltimore Reads.
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