There are about 14,000 economically-needy elementary school children in Collier County Public Schools. Consequently, being economically-needy comes a catalog of disadvantages, with low-literacy rates topping the list.
Book for Collier Kids vows to change that. For the past 13 years, educators and supporters alike have dedicated their time to provide disadvantaged children with a new books each year. The organization has provided over one million books for thousands of children of low-income households in Collier County as of this spring, the organization said.
“Nora Kolmer, one of the founding board members, invited me to join the board. She described the organization as small but mighty with a great cause to make a big difference. I was hooked,” said Sallie Williams, chair of Books for Collier Kids.
“One million books is a lot of books,” Williams said. “If you place 1,000,000 children’s books end to end, they would stretch from Naples to Miami and back again! That’s a lot of books for children in need right here in Collier County.”
The organization gives around 100,000 books annually to approximately 7,400 pre-K to second grade students.
Students are chosen from Title I elementary schools, schools with high numbers of low-income families, or in Head Start Programs, an early childhood program for families meeting certain income guidelines. There are a total 22 Title I schools and 18 Head Start programs in the county.
“Our mission is simple and pure. We believe that access to books is one of the key factors affecting literacy,” said Williams.
On a monthly to bi-monthly basis, a child is given a book with a personalized name plate to take home. The books are administered to the students free of charge.
Every book selected undergoes a specific vetting process to ensure each book is age-appropriate and relative to each child’s current curriculum. Educators from the organization work with curriculum specialists and match each book with the students’ syllabuses.
“Each teacher is informed ahead of time of which book title will be distributed to the children so he or she may develop a lesson plan,” said Williams. “[Each child] receives their own to take home, share and cherish.”
All the books donated are purchased with an 80 percent discounts from retailers.
A majority of the books are obtained through First Book Marketplace, a national children’s book retailer, while the rest are purchased from Book Bank, also a children’s book retailer. Nearly 90 cents of each dollar donated go towards books, according to Williams.
Since the birth of Books for Collier Kids, over 98 percent of the families impacted have seen the value and effectiveness of the work given, the organization says. The organization also claims a part of the credit for “measurable improvements in Collier County’s children’s reading scores.” Third grade English/Language Arts scores on the Florida State Assessment in 2016-17 rose 6 percent in Collier.
“We are so indebted to Books for Collier Kids for the thousands of books they continue to provide to our students who would not have books at home,” Collier Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton at the celebration in February commemorating the one millionth book.
Books for Collier Kids collaborates with other non-profit organizations to offer opportunities to underprivileged children. Habitat for Humanity, along with Christ Child Society of Naples, work closely with the organization by giving children of the families helped a personalized library. Children are given between 12 to 15 books in a hand-made table top bookshelf, according to Williams.
“We believe this homecoming gift enriches the family and the children and encourages a spirit of reading and learning,” said Williams.
BCK is always looking for volunteers who wish to help with distribution or packaging of books. For those interested in volunteering, donating, or for further information, visit booksforcollierkids.org or call Sallie Williams at 239-391-4062.
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