The author of this article is a Lake Forest College student who is interning with Bernies Book Bank. If you are interested in learning more about either organization, click on the following: Reading Power and Bernie’s Book Bank
By Lillian Dypold
“It pains me that kids might not know the thrill and excitement of reading,” says Reading Power tutor and board member Mindy Mooney. “At Reading Power, we want kids to be passionate about reading and writing.”
Reading Power is a non-profit tutoring program modeled after Reading Recovery and Project Prevent, two highly effective literacy programs. Currently, Reading Power serves nearly 200 students in kindergarten, first, or second grade in four North Chicago elementary schools. Since its founding in 2003, Reading Power has provided services to more than 1,000 children.
Reading Power depends greatly on its 160 volunteers, who are trained by professional reading specialists including Executive Director Rebecca Mullen. Volunteers dedicate one morning or afternoon each week for about three hours to tutoring the same three or four students. Each child receives one-on-one attention for 30-35 minutes multiple times a week. Tutors use a pre-designed curriculum, but they are responsible for customizing lesson plans to meet the daily needs of students.
“Learning the curriculum was a challenge, but seeing the students improve is reward enough,” says Reading Power tutor Betsy Conrad.
Although Reading Power sought to focus singularly on improving reading and writing skills in North Chicago children, the reality that many of the students did not have age-appropriate books at home made this difficult. Volunteers would buy new books for the students, but this only provided students with one or two books each year. Other volunteers spent time organizing book collections, but this pulled focus away from Reading Power’s core mission.
“The children needed books, but our purpose is not to provide books,” says Reading Power Executive Director and Reading Specialist Rebecca Mullen. “It was pulling us away from our mission.”
In March of 2010, however, Reading Power and Bernie’s Book Bank partnered to bring much-needed books to North Chicago children served by Reading Power. Bernie’s Book Bank, whose singular focus is increasing book ownership among at-risk children, is able to put at least 18 quality books into the hands of Reading Power students every year, at no cost to Reading Power. Since the partnership began, Bernie’s Book Bank has supplied Reading Power students with more than 5,000 books.
“Access to books is a non-negotiable in any successful educational journey,” says Bernie’s Book Bank Founder and Executive Director Brian Floriani. “Our partnership with Reading Power allows each of us to capitalize on what we do best — Reading Power can focus on tutoring, and we can focus on providing books to the children.”
“Now, I’m reassured that the children will get 18 books per year or more, instead of just one,” says Mullen. “We are able to do what we do well because Bernie’s Book Bank fills that critical need.”
“Bernie’s Book Bank is the logistical bridge between where books are and no longer being used, to where they are not but are desperately needed,” says Floriani. “Collecting and distributing books is not a new idea. Bernie’s Book Bank is unique in that we add urgency and professionalism with the end user in mind, which allows us to significantly shrink the time from collection to distribution.”
Bernie’s Book Bank currently serves more than 35,000 at-risk infants, toddlers, and school-aged children in Chicagoland through the distribution of 13,000 books each week. By 2013, Bernie’s Book Bank plans to distribute 1,000,000 books annually. They then plan to replicate their business model in other major U.S. cities.
For the students served, books from Bernie’s Book Bank are incredibly important, as many do not already own books.
“The consistency with which Bernie’s Book Bank distributes books is very important in the lives of our students,” says Mullen. “One student sleeps with his Bernie’s books because he is afraid someone might steal them.” Catherine Driscoll, managing director of Bernie’s Book Bank, confirms that for students living in homeless shelters, this story is not at all uncommon.
“Gifts are extra special for our students,” says Mooney. “The fact that they can keep the books Bernie’s Book Bank provides means a lot to them.”
Mullen adds that becoming book ambassadors by passing on books as they outgrow them has brought a great sense of pride to many children. “For students who can’t afford to give gifts, this is extraordinarily special.”
While this partnership has been beneficial to both Bernie’s Book Bank and Reading Power, it’s the kids who have truly reaped the benefits. Mooney concludes, “It’s wonderful that we’re able to dovetail efforts because, in the end, the kids come out the winners.”