Children in McPherson County are now receiving free books as part of a Kansas-based literacy outreach program.
Page Pals is a pilot program that ships books in regular increments to the homes of children younger than first grade. Three to five books are sent about four times a year, resulting in a cumulative library over time.
About 25 children in the area received their first shipment several weeks ago. This fulfills one of the organization's objectives, which is to reach children in rural areas.
The organization, Building a Bookshelf, is a volunteer non-profit organization founded by married duo Geoffrey Allison and his wife. It is their hope the organization can improve literacy for children of all ages through the availability of books.
"We're just a resource gap filler," Allison said. "We view ourselves to be a conduit to get resources and put them in them where they're needed and wanted."
The organization distributed 6,937 books in 2012. All of them are new or gently used.
As they expanded to more rural areas after concentrating distribution in Kansas City, the Allisons contacted the McPherson Preschool Program, among other groups in the state. Local children were then selected by local adults.
Selection wasn't necessarily restricted to low-income families, but also included some that might be over-excelling or have special needs.
"It's for children in need," Christina Hett of the McPherson Preschool Program said. "That's what I liked about it. It really gave us the ability to look at the children in need and not base it on (an income) number."
Hett said this will encourage early literacy and could also help families foster intentional time with their children.
"Hopefully they will grow into an appreciation and a love for reading," Hett said. "It's really all about education and it's so important. Anything we can do to increase that literacy at that age is huge and the payoff is big."
On another level, the books received by mail also have given children a sense of pride and ownership. Although it wasn't the Allison's first goal, communities throughout the state have expressed a desire to promote these feelings in children.
"This is the type of thing that breeds confidence in a young person — knowing someone's willing to give something," Allison said. "We never thought about that."
All of these benefits combined make a program that can build a better future for the state's children, which Allison said could include reducing poverty and crime rates and improving health.
"Through increased literacy, children can grow up to be effective leaders of the community," he said.
Funds for this pilot program were provided in part by the Kansas Health Foundation's Children and Youth Fund administered by the McPherson County Community Foundation.
Page 2 of 2 - For more information about the organization, visit buildingabookshelf.org.
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