Saturday, February 1, 2003

Corona Public Library

First Book gives kids first books:
A Corona-Norco group promotes literacy among low-income preschoolers.
Press-Enterprise: January 25, 2003 by Adriana Chavira

The faces of the preschoolers light up when they flip the crisp pages of each new book they receive every month.

Unlike library books that are eventually returned, these books are theirs for keeps.

"The kids were thrilled when they got them to take home," said Robin Gentry, community assistant at the Norco Head Start state preschool.

About 400 low-income preschoolers in the area are receiving one book a month thanks to the newly formed Corona-Norco First Book local advisory board that raises money and distributes books to promote literacy at a young age.

The local advisory board began about six months ago after Corona resident Warren Wilson read about First Book in a Kiwanis magazine. Wilson, a member of Corona Kiwanis, approached members of Circle City Kiwanis and Norco Kiwanis since their service clubs regularly donate books to children.

Wilson recruited other community volunteers to serve on the 12-member board and help raise money for books for children in Head Start schools at Home Gardens, Garretson and Jefferson elementary schools and at the Riverside Community College Norco campus. Children at the Circle of Hope homeless shelter and other low-income children are also receiving the books each month. The group plans to distribute books at the annual Day of the Child event in April.

"It's something they can't afford," said Wilson, chairman of the local advisory board. "They don't get a chance to have one unless they get it at a rummage sale."

First Book gave the local board 3,000 books for distributions that began in December. Volunteers are seeking donations of $30 a person to supply one child with books for one year, Warren said. The local group can purchase additional books at discount rates from First Book. The members meet the last Monday of the month at Corona United Methodist Church.

First Book began in 1992 to promote literacy among children from low-income families. The Corona-based group is the first in the Inland Empire.

"We try to target programs where 80 percent or more of the children come from low-income families. Those tend to be families that don't have books in their home," said Ingrid Burkett, First Book manager for community development.

Patty Timmons, the Corona Public Library's families for literacy coordinator, already visits many of the poor neighborhoods to distribute free books through a grant program and sees a need for books in their homes.

"We've got families who unfortunately are not living in the best conditions," said Timmons, who serves on the First Book local advisory board. "The kids have no books at home. That's the last thing the parents can buy."

She hopes to give books to about 250 children through the First Book program. That would almost double the number of children the library now serves.

Some of the preschool children, who range in age from 3 to 5, are not yet reading, but the books can spark an interest in reading and encourage them to learn, Gentry said. Parents are encouraged to read to their children at home, and often Riverside Community College students from the Norco campus read to the two Head Start classes.

"We feel they will learn to appreciate and to take care of the books just by the fact that they're theirs," said Ken Minor, a member of the local board and Circle City Kiwanis. "They may just read (the books) and they will read them over and over. Each time they read them ,it will improve their reading skills."