2018-01-01 / Spotlight News

Books for Collier Kids builds libraries a family at a time

By Don Manley

Books for Collier Kids will provide the donation of its one millionth book in 2018. Books for Collier Kids will provide the donation of its one millionth book in 2018. Books for Collier Kids plays an integral role in the effort to ensure children from the county’s low-income families start their educational careers with solid reading skills.

In fact, the nonprofit will reach an important landmark in 2018 that illustrates its dedication to the cause, the donation of its one millionth book to a needy child since the organization’s 2005 formation.

Formerly known as First Book-Collier County, Books for Collier Kids works to improve literacy by providing new books, for free, to youngsters in pre-K, kindergarten, and first and second grade classrooms in the Federal Title 1 (90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches) and Head Start programs. Their families live at or below the federal poverty line and the books belong to the students, who can take them home and build libraries that can be shared with family members.

The organization donates 100,000 books to more than 7,400 Collier County students each year, one a month, August through June. Some are distributed through partnerships with nonprofits that share its mission, such as YMCAs, the Boys and Girls Club, the Fun Time Early Learning Academy, Grace Place for Children and Families, Habitat for Humanity and the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee.

The books go to families that may not be able to afford them or where English is spoken as a second language, if at all.

“These are parents that are living paycheck to paycheck and this is the only way for some of these children to get books into their home, so it’s a great program,” said Leslie Turner, director of education for Fun Time Early Learning Academy, which provides affordable education and care to prepare children from low-income families for kindergarten.

Diane Ponton, Grace Place’s director of family literacy, agreed.

“One of our goals is to begin and then improve the home libraries for our families,” she said. “By having that book and having that be part of their everyday life, they’re going to grow up wanting to be a reader and becoming a better reader.”

Norma Kolmer, Books for Collier Kids co-founder and board vice-chairman, said the inroads the group has helped make in literacy promotion have been rewarding.

“Poverty begets poverty, so we want to help where we can,” she said. “We have some of the little ones with their backpacks, they bring their books back and forth every day. I think one of our greatest accomplishments is working with Habitat. These children not only have new homes and a wonderful future, they also have a whole bookshelf with books for them. We’ve been told by families that they’re not in the bedroom. They’re in the living room and everybody is looking at them.”

Books for Collier Kids is funded by donations and it purchases books from the First Book Market Place, a national organization that carries top-quality books at a deep discount to nonprofits, churches and schools that serve children in need.

“We can buy the $10 to $15 books for $1 to $2.50,” said Kolmer. “Some of the Dr. Seuss books cost us $3.50, but in the store, retail, they’re $12. People want to buy books for us, but I’ll tell them, ‘You can go to Barnes and Noble and spend $100 and come home with 10 books and we’ll go to the Marketplace and we can come home with 50 books.”

Kolmer’s sister and fellow co-founder, Mary Polizzotto, a Ph.D in elementary education and teaching, is the board’s distribution chairman. She selects the books for the organization, in consultation with teachers and Kamela Patton, superintendent of the Collier County school district, to ensure they are age appropriate and appealing to children.

Books for Collier also includes a reading program in which volunteers, primarily retirees, visit schools one day a week to read to children in Title 1 pre-K classrooms.

The organization’s services are indeed important, said Barbara Tyrrell, director of the Fun Time Academy. “Without this program, it’s very likely the child would not have any books in the home because it’s not something the parents would choose to purchase,” she said. “They’re fulfilling basic needs and sometimes, books are expensive. By virtue of Books for Collier Kids, they’re given books throughout the year.”

For more information about Books for Collier Kids and its “Thanks a Million” celebration, set for Feb. 28 at a private club in Naples, visit booksforcollierkids.org.

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