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Go Ask Mom

Building Literacy: Book Harvest distributes books to Triangle children

Posted December 11, 2016

Ginger Young tells me she's a mom, first and foremost. And a fixer.

A few years ago, her own children were outgrowing their childhood books. Young knew there were children just a mile from her home without a single book at home.

She knew that countless studies have found that book ownership is critical for young children as they develop language and reading skills and for long-term academic success.

And she knew she could come up with a solution.

"I love to fix problems in the simplest way possible," said Young, who lives in Orange County with her husband. The couple have three children - a high school senior and two young adults.

Young launched Book Harvest in Durham in 2011. The group gathers books and donations and distributes them to the homes of children in the Triangle. In just a few years, the non-profit has experienced major success.

"I am delighted that in founding Book Harvest I have made my way back to the nonprofit sector," said Young, who received her master's degree of public administration from Harvard University and ran a business specializing in Southern self-taught art for 20 years. "I love being surrounded by innovative nonprofit activists, and I have the best job in the world. I feel more and more every day that, now that my own kids are largely sprung from the nest, this is my life's work. Providing books to kids -- books that they can read again and again and keep forever -- is a privilege and a constant thrill."

I checked in with Young by email to learn more about her amazing work and how all of us can help. Here's a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: How did Book Harvest get its start?

Ginger Young: In 2011, frustrated by the disconnect between what we know (books in the home are vital to children’s academic success) and what we are doing with that knowledge (not enough), I founded Book Harvest.

One book drive led to another, word spread like wildfire that every book donated would end up in the hands and home of a local child who needs it, and I knew we were on to something that could become a grassroots movement of goodness.

In less than six years, the Triangle community has donated more than 600,000 new and gently used children’s books to Book Harvest, and local low-income kids have harvested more than 500,000 of these books to take home and keep for their very own. We live in a phenomenally generous community, filled with people with giant hearts and a deep sense of responsibility to their neighbor. That is why Book Harvest has taken off so quickly and so effectively.

GAM: You distribute books to needy kids and also offer programs in the community. What all does Book Harvest do?

GY: We have a portfolio of four programs that provide books and literacy support to children starting at birth and spanning all the way through high school. Each program is different, but they share a core belief in the power of books to transform children's lives. When children grow up in book-rich homes, they are more likely to thrive in school and in life, with vibrant imaginations and a deep well of empathy. And those are the kinds of kids who will grow up to be engaged, curious and thoughtful adults.

We believe that books are an essential part of a healthy childhood, right up there with healthy food, a safe and loving home, and decent health care. But as a society, we have a lot of work to do to live up to that belief. Waaaaay too many kids (and even one is too many!) are growing up in homes without any books. That is simply unacceptable - and eminently fixable.

Embedded in our programs are two priorities: That kids be allowed to select their own books (studies show that the books have ever so much more impact when the kids choose ones that excite them (and it's a whole lot more fun) and that they be able to build home libraries of LOTS of books. Research shows that every book a child owns improves outcomes - you truly can't have too many! That is why, for example, with our Book Babies program, we work with the parents to begin building the home library as soon as the child is born. By the time that child enters kindergarten, she will have a home library of more than 120 books!

GAM: Why is it so critical to get books in the hands of kids?

GY: There are SO many compelling reasons. The best roundup of why can be found on Book Harvest's website. These findings motivate us and inform our programming every day.

GAM: What's it like seeing kids get their own books for the first time?

GY: It's magical. The power of witnessing a child find her new favorite book never fades. Even after six years doing this, I still tear up when I hear a child clutch a favorite book and say, "You mean I really get to keep it?" A little girl recently wrote us a thank you note for her books, and she ended the note with, "my mommy says I am a good reader." The pride she so clearly felt practically leapt off the page.

GAM: How can people help? And tell us about your book drive coming up next month!

GY: We need everyone in our community to get involved if we are to realize our big dream that every single child in our community is growing up in a book-rich home! People can help in one of three main ways:

1. They can donate new and gently used children's books. In addition to decluttering their own bookshelves at home, they can run a book drive -- for example, in their school, workplace, neighborhood, or congregation. Book drive leaders, who are often children themselves, never cease to be amazed at how many books they can collect with just a little effort. We try to make it super easy by sharing a book drive toolkit on our website.

2. They can donate money. We do an enormous amount with a little - even a gift of $10 can enable us to build a home library for a young reader. It's easy to donate online on our website.

3. They can volunteer. We need volunteers to sort the donated books, to serve as liaisons who stock more than 40 "free book" shelves throughout the community every week, to staff our front desk and greet visitors at our office in Durham, and to do lots of other fun, inspiring things, all of which support our work helping our donated books find their new forever home. Anyone interested can learn more on our volunteer page on our website.

And, yes, our biggest event of the year is just five weeks away -- our Dream Big Book Drive on the afternoon of MLK Day. That is the day when we invite our entire community to join us in service by bringing us their book donations and joining us as we celebrate kids and books. It will be an amazing family-friendly party from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 16, at Durham Central Park -- complete with live music, food trucks, the Bouncing Bulldogs, the Scrap Exchange, and mascots aplenty! Last year, we collected more than 28,000 books in a single afternoon -- it is an event to behold. We hope everyone in the community can join us!

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

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