“Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.” - Oprah Winfrey
Books Are Wings is a Rhode Island-based nonprofit whose mission is to put free books in the hands of children. Founded in 1998 and incorporated in 2003, the organization celebrated a milestone this year: they have given at least one book to every single child enrolled in Central Falls elementary schools, from pre-kindergarten to grade 4.
Director Jocelynn White emphasizes the joy and excitement children express when they are told that they can choose a book to take home with them. After one book giveaway at a school, two second grade boys refused to let their books out of their sight, bringing them to the lunchroom and out to the playground for recess.
In Central Falls, where more than 41% of the children live in poverty, books are often a luxury that families cannot afford. Books Are Wings Assistant Director Paige Clausius-Parks says, “I see our work as increasing access to reading for low-income families. Folks that come from privilege often don’t have to make a choice between buying a loaf of bread and buying their child a book. Books are very expensive, so for most of the families we serve, this isn’t really a choice.”
Books Are Wings partners with local schools and early childhood programs to bring books to kids in their own communities. Book parties are held in schools, at libraries, and at community events such as the Bright Future Festival held in Central Falls this past September. They try to connect with parents, as well, explaining the importance of reading and even giving parents books when possible.
Without books in the home, children have fewer opportunities to choose reading as a pastime. Research has shown that children who read for pleasure perform significantly better in school than their non-reading peers. Increasing children’s access to books increases their reading skills.
Fourth graders who read for fun every day score higher on reading achievement tests. Since only 44% of all Central Falls fourth graders scored at the proficient level on the 2013 New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test - the lowest reading proficiency in the state – it’s obvious why Books Are Wings has focused on that area. The organization also operates programs in Pawtucket, Providence, Newport, and Woonsocket.
An early participant in the program, Kayla Farrands, received free books from Books Are Wings years ago at the Weaver Library in East Providence. After she graduated from college, as an AmeriCorps member working at ServeRI, she was reminded of the Books Are Wings program and how much she loved it.
While employed at (add)ventures in 2014, Kayla helped organize a company book drive through their (add)love program. Employees at the company bought books that were meaningful to them and even inscribed the books with handwritten messages to the children who would be receiving them. It was an opportunity for add(ventures) to give back to the community in a personal and significant way.
Today, Kayla volunteers whenever she can, and she feels honored to have been invited to join Books Are Wings’ Advisory Committee. “Books Are Wings is an organization I’m really passionate about, and I’m excited to continue to support their work.” With thousands of books in their collection, Books Are Wings is quickly outgrowing their office space in Hope Artiste Village. They hope to double their space sometime in the near future, as well as to acquire a van to help them transport books.
Through the Children’s Book Drive, a collaborative effort with the United Way of Rhode Island, over 22,000 books were donated from over 60 businesses during the month of May. There are many more ways to get involved: host a book drive, volunteer to help sort or transport book donations, or work at a book party or event. And of course, Books Are Wings is always happy to accept financial support.
By sharing your love of reading with Rhode Island’s children, you can help them soar.
This post also appeared at GoLocalProv.