Kids get to own their own books

The Baltimore Sun

Harford County is getting its own First Book, a nonprofit organization that gives books to underprivileged children.

Harford and Cecil county residents are forming a local advisory board for First Book. The first batch of books will be distributed in September in Edgewood, according to the organization.

Leading the effort is Veronica Jaynes, who is opening a day care center. A year ago, Jaynes moved to Street from Camden, N.J.

"We had a First Book advisory board in Camden - a large one. We did readings with children, and I wanted to bring that idea here," Jaynes said.

The national organization, created in 1992, gives children from low-income families the opportunity to own new books. The group has distributed 50 million books throughout the country.

Jaynes said she felt the "urgency was extreme" because of the number of Title I schools in the area.

Schools are designated Title I based on the number of students receiving free and reduced-price school lunches. Six Harford County public schools out of 54 have the Title I designation.

In New Jersey, volunteers went into Title I schools and were paired with children, Jaynes said.

"They always look forward to you coming in," Jaynes said. "Starting out in Edgewood, we can do some Saturday readings and book distributions."

Karen Green, a recreation specialist with Harford County Parks and Recreation, said there has been widespread interest in First Book from senior citizen groups, a drama group, community organizations, the public schools and the library system.

"It's addressing a gap that we know exists in the community because so many households don't even have a dictionary and don't have books," Green said. "It's hard for children to continue to be involved in the learning process if they don't have books."

Open Doors, an Aberdeen-based organization that focuses on women and children, is seeking new books by pairing with First Book. Through the organization's Storybook Program, incarcerated mothers read books aloud, which are tape-recorded and then sent to their children.

"If we're looking to break the chains of poverty, creating a literate society is where you should start," said Susan Allen, the training coordinator at Open Doors. "Books in children's hands is an important part of that."

Interested parties of First Book initially met in April, and by next month a First Book advisory board will be formed, Jaynes said.

The group has secured a grant for 3,000 books, and about half of those books will be given to children at a First Book kickoff event in Edgewood, set for September, Jaynes said.

"My hope is to develop a huge voluntary organization to distribute books, to read with kids in Title I schools and work with the Boys and Girls Club, to improve success rates of our early childhood children so they're more prepared," Jaynes said.

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