December 13, 2017

Today we travel to Chicago and talk with Curtis Shaw Flagg at the nonprofit Open Books.  Later in the show Kimberly and Chad bring us the second part of an interview with Peace Fund Heroes of the Week Amy and Emma Bushman.

Reading is an invaluable skill that's important to just about every aspect of our daily lives, from communications to the way we work to the food we eat.  Approximately 32 million adults in America are considered to be illiterate; about 14% of the entire adult population cannot read.  For adults who struggle with reading, the impact is felt in a number of ways, but the most obvious one is in the workplace. 

The roots of the illiteracy problem can be traced back to the elementary and secondary school years. The lack of literacy skills during a child's early life translate to illiteracy rates later on.

While high school graduation is a major milestone for teens, the unfortunate fact is that many of them struggle to decipher the words on their diploma.  Almost 20% of high school graduates haven't developed basic reading proficiency.  These youth who are challenged readers are much more likely to drop out of school before they make it to graduation.  For those children who aren't successfully reading at grade level by the third grade, they are four times less likely to even finish high school.

What can you do?  Read to Your Kids!

From classic rhymes by Dr. Seuss to the magical world of Harry Potter, books are a crucial part of childhood development. The stories kids hear when they're young are the ones that they remember most, and reading together with a parent makes them even more memorable.

One of the most important things parents can do, beyond keeping kids healthy and safe, is to read with them. That means starting when they are newborns and not even able to talk, and continuing well beyond the years that they can read by themselves. Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves.

It's pretty intuitive — if you read to your child consistently, they'll be more capable of reading on their own. 

One charity working to bring reading to young children is Open Books in Chicago.  Open Books is a unique nonprofit social venture that provides literacy experiences for thousands of readers each year through inspiring programs and creative capitalization of books.  Programs are the heart of Open Books. From one-on-one reading practice with young students and book grants to school classrooms all the way through intensive novel-writing sessions and celebrations of their newly published young authors, they transform thousands of lives each year through reading, writing, and the power of used books.

Open Books operates two incredible award-winning stores whose sales support their mission. While in Chicago we had the chance to visit with the Marketing Director, Curtis Shaw Flagg at their flagship store, featuring over 50,000 books in dozens of genres and a dedicated youth section with 10,000 children’s and young adult books.

Books can spark inspiration and independence. However, many individuals — including struggling readers — have limited access to books.

Every week, Open Books gives away thousands of engaging, appropriate and high-quality books (hand-selected from inventory generously donated by the public). Through our Book Programs, we create libraries in schools and nonprofit centers, support literacy events in the community, and provide students with books to keep and enjoy with their families.

In this week's Hero of the Week segment we continue the the second part of our interview with Amy and Emma Bushman.

As you probably remember from last week, Amy and Emma began helping out at a local homeless shelter at the age of four. Their volunteer work began with collecting items for the shelter at the twins’ birthday party each year. Once the items were gathered, they delivered them to the shelter and prepared a homemade pancake breakfast for the families. While they always enjoyed working together in the kitchen, it saddened them to see the shelter children standing in the doorway watching (for safety reasons, the shelter children were never allowed to enter the kitchen).

Emma and Amy
Emma and Amy

 At the age of seven, after viewing a TV special on child entrepreneurs and attending a cooking camp with mom Alison, they knew that family cooking time was a bonding experience they wanted shelter families to be able to have and that they would use their entrepreneurial skills to make it possible. Thus began BakeMeHome, a charity designed to give departing shelter families a tote bag containing a mason jar filled with a special oatmeal cookie mix, cooking utensils, a grocery store gift card (for perishable ingredients), and a toothbrush and toothpaste, so that families could inaugurate their new home (and life) by making cookies together. 

Since that day in 2008, BakeMeHome has expanded to include programs for local food pantries, kids in foster care, members of the military (including veterans), and other services. Kids as young as four years old are encouraged to volunteer at BakeMeHome, for the twins are as dedicated to promoting volunteerism, especially in kids, as they are to using cookies (and baking) to heal.