Battle of the Books

Greetings in the name of Christ,

Many of you have heard me talk about the joy I have experienced while volunteering in a program called Books for Kids in Milwaukee’s central city. Approximately two afternoons a month I am delighted to read one-on-one with several preschoolers. Over 90% of these 2-6 year olds come from families living below the poverty level. Their enthusiasm and appetite for knowledge is awe-inspiring, as the 3-4 year olds proudly help me with color and number recognition, and many of the 5-6 year olds are able to read along with me.

As a young child growing up in a relatively poor working class family, books were my escape. Though my father only had an 8th grade education and my mother had only a GED they knew the importance of a quality education and made sure I had access to all the books I could read. Not all kids are nearly as lucky. 42 percent of American children (over 31 million) grow up in homes that lack the income to cover even the most basic needs like rent, child care, food, transportation, and healthcare. Studies have shown that success in life is directly linked to education and literacy.  The National Institute for Literacy estimates that 43% of adult with very low literacy skills live in poverty.

So what does this have to do with the Church? We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 12, that we are all part of one body through Christ.  When any member of our community suffers, we all suffer. Proverbs 22:6 says that we are to train a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it. It seems then, that by providing children with the books and caring individuals to share the love of reading and knowledge with them we are “training up” these children in a way that will lead to academic achievement so that they may grow up to be productive and contributing members of society. The great thing about “Books for Kids” is that it is not just about giving books away but doing so in a method that connects these kids to adults who serve as role models who encourage them to do well.

If a child cannot read at a proficient level by the 4th grade, there is a 66% chance that he or she will end up in jail or on welfare.  Approximately 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.  In the U.S. 1 in 5 (20%) adults lack reading skills beyond a 4th grade level. If literacy is one of the key indicators to success in life, then it only makes sense to give children the tools to excel, ending the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.

As a summer mission endeavor I am inviting you to join me in collecting books for the Books for Kids Program at Next Door Milwaukee. Next Door’s Books for Kids program was established in 1990 with the hope that all children in Milwaukee’s central city, regardless of family income or education levels, could have books to call their own. Books for Kids distributes over 70,000 books each year!  Each month the children in their early childhood program meet with a volunteer in the Books For Kids Library for 30 minutes of one-on-one reading twice a month, and get to select a book to take home for their very own. Congratulations for reading this newsletter—you have won a special prize—call, email, or stop by the church office to receive. Beginning this summer the program has grown: in addition to their site on 29th St., Books for Kids has added a second location on Capitol Drive. This second site will expose even more children to reading but it also will require an even greater outpouring of books. Books are also distributed to neighborhood families and teachers to promote literacy. Placing books into the hands of Milwaukee’s central city children is essential because:

  • Low-income families have few children’s books in their homes.
  • The number of books in a child’s home correlates significantly with reading achievement.
  • The number of books available to a child plays a role in predicting first grade reading achievement                .

Reading ability is a strong predictor of success and interest in school.

By expanding the number and frequency of reading experiences Books for Kids inspires young people to develop an appreciation and love for books.  As a result, these children improve reading fundamentals, school preparedness, and their chances of achieving long-term academic success.

To add a fun little twist to our collection we are having a “Battle of the Books” as both Our Saviour’s UCC and St. John UCC will be collecting books from now through Sept. 15th. The church who gathers the most books will receive bragging rights and a special “Trophy. ”The collection box will be located in the church lobby. New and gently used picture books, board books and other books appropriate for ages 0-6 is greatly appreciated.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Tara