When two separate but equally purposeful entities join together a magical and long-lasting relationship ensues. At the beginning of the 20th century peanut butter, jelly and sliced bread joined forces- changing parents’ lives and children’s lunches forever. This may seem like a trivial reference but can you imagine our world without the beloved PB&J?! On July 1, 2017, Books from Birth (an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library) merged with Porter-Leath and I believe this, too, is destined to be the creation of something extraordinary and long-lasting, changing parents’ and children’s lives forever.
“For over 160 years, Porter-Leath has been the primary resource for Memphis’ at-risk children and families…[it] not only gives them access to the tools they need, but also a sense of hope.
Books from Birth promotes kindergarten readiness and strengthens family bonds in Shelby County by providing age-appropriate books for all children from birth to age five.”
I first learned of Books from Birth from my neighbor- and now friend- who enjoyed reading with her daughter the monthly selections delivered to their mailbox- at no cost! She had to explain the process and concept to me several times over, not because I didn’t understand the process but because I was in awe of the concept that promised a brand new, best-selling, age-appropriate book FREE to any child in Shelby County. After signing up for the program, the tangible gift of a new book soon translated into an intangible gift for me of watching my young son’s face light up with joy every time he walked to the mailbox to get his special delivery. When I spoke with the program’s Executive Director, Jamila Wicks, one of the things she shared that caused me to pause for a moment and grasp the magnitude of their giving is that “no matter what your demographic, you are getting the same book, the same quality.”
I briefly envisioned a group of children, all from different neighborhoods and socio-economic backgrounds, of different cultures and ethnicities, sitting together and wondering about only one thing: whether Madeline, in the end, would be ok (Caldecott Honor book Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans is one received by enrollees of the program.) I understood even more so that while Books for Birth is bridging the gap in literacy rates between children across varying socio-economic sectors, it is also creating the opportunity for friendships and relationships to be built along the way as children learn they have more in common with each other than not. Wicks states that the Porter-Leath partnership “allows us to build” and their mutual goal is that everyone is reached: that the current nearly-70% enrollment in the program (for Shelby County children under age five) grows to 100%. She believes that by now being able to serve in a greater capacity through portals such as Porter-Leath’s Cornerstone program-which includes home visitations to pregnant mothers and parenting families- they can “go deeper, beyond the delivery of a book.”
Rob Hughes, Vice President of Development at Porter-Leath, says that he wants to make sure the books children have access to in the classroom are the same books they have in the home. He elaborates that the Parent Educators, who visit homes as part of the Cornerstone program, promote learning with the parents while teachers in the classrooms receive ongoing training, placing everyone involved on the same page. He credits Wick with being the driving force of the merger and states that because Porter-Leath has “made such strong inroads, children are now getting books who otherwise may not.” Wicks echoes that sentiment by reflecting on the growth now possible with Books from Birth by utilizing Porter-Leath’s brick and mortar buildings, such as alternative delivery methods for families who don’t have a permanent home/mailbox.
As an avid book-lover I can tell you that books are one of those rare gifts with the potential to give, give and give some more. The gift of literacy alone is infinite, yet we also are given bonuses in soul-growth when an author’s words hit our hearts just so and in children’s smiles when they turn the colorful pages of a book that is all theirs to keep. This holiday season please consider the power in the gifting of books and in supporting these organizations because what they are doing for the children and families of Shelby County truly is magical.
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