Charity Spotlight: This post was provided by Mary Lou Smitheram, Director of Fun with Books Association, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
Some of the fondest memories I have as a child are snuggling up with my mom or dad and reading a book before bed. It’s an integral early learning experience, and essential for fostering a love of reading. But not all kids have this opportunity.
In 1992, a high school English teacher in Brockville, ON was concerned. His students didn’t seem to enjoy reading like he and his wife and children did. He knew that it was important to his students’ future careers that they become capable readers and to their future lives that they take pleasure in it. After some digging, he found that almost all the students who said they disliked reading had not had the experience of enjoying books and stories before they came to school. He shared this with his colleagues, and in the staff room of this high school, Fun with Books was born.
In December, 1992, this small group set up a sign up table in the local mall, and registered about 300 children, promising to supply each registered child under age 5 with two free books each month. The idea was popular! Over the next year they fine-tuned their organization, contracting a book supplier, approaching local companies and organizations for help, and working out a distribution system. The United Way of Leeds and Grenville and local service clubs provided funding, and by the end of 1993 Fun with Books was off and running.
Since that time, Fun with Books has become an institution in Leeds and Grenville. Well over half a million free books have been given away, and thousands of children have graduated from the program. Financial support came from organizations such as The United Way, the Trillium Foundation, and Early Years. Now that much of this funding has ceased fewer books are delivered, but Fun with Books remains very popular in the community. In February, 2015, over 100 new children signed up for the service, which brings our monthly total to 1450 children.
How it Works
Imagine the delight of opening the mail and finding a brand new book addressed to you every other month? We know our young readers anxiously await their special delivery, ready to read.
Fun with Books operates without any paid staff. Besides a working Board of Directors, some of whom have been involved for over 20 years, almost 100 volunteers are involved in the packing and distribution of the books. Each registered family receives one book every other month. The books are packed, addressed and delivered by volunteers (or occasionally mailed) to the homes of the children.
Five years ago, Fun with Books embarked on a new venture – soliciting, developing, printing and distributing books written and illustrated by local writers and artists. The Board thought that this would be an occasional activity which would save some money, but the enterprise has grown to the point that by the end of 2015 we will have produced 32 “home grown” books. Our authors and illustrators are talented volunteers, as is our desktop designer. Delivering these books has allowed us to cut our expenses by about 40 percent. And best of all, the children like them!