One of the things I’m doing for the Foundation Beyond Belief these days is writing blog posts about some of the organizations that have been the beneficiary of FBB grants. The most recent that I’ve written about is Bernie’s Book Bank, which is doing some really great work in the Chicago area. I’ll put the full text of that post below the fold. This is why I’m so excited about working with FBB, which is putting humanist principles into action every day.
Brian Floriani was a golf pro when he decided to become a reading paraprofessional at an elementary school in Chicago and came face to face with the dramatic need to get more books into the hands of children, especially in poor school districts with parents who were often barely getting by. In 2009 he decided to do something to make that happen, forming Bernie’s Book Bank, our current Education beneficiary, in his garage.
BBB, named after Brian’s father, Dr. Bernard Floriani, collects and redistributes books from individuals, libraries, and other sources to at-risk children in the Chicago area. In 2010, the organization distributed 140,000 books. In 2011, that jumped to 350,000. In 2012, that number nearly doubled again to more than 600,000. Starting this year, the goal is to distribute at least one million books every year, and Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to be helping them achieve that goal with a grant for the second quarter of 2013.
BBB focuses its book distribution on schools that predominately serve the underprivileged, where more than 50% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. Children born to middle-class families routinely have access to quality children’s books, but those who live in poor families rarely do. The ratio of age-appropriate books in middle-class neighborhoods, one study noted, was 13 books for every child; in poor neighborhoods, the ratio was one book for every 300 children.
As the BBB website notes, many studies show that having books in the home at an early age is crucial in developing literacy and an appreciation for learning. The single most important factor for early educational success is being introduced to books at a young age. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. A full two-thirds of those who have not developed reading proficiency by the 4th grade will end up either in jail or on welfare.
55,000 underprivileged students received books from BBB in 2012, and those numbers continue to climb, in part because of the organization’s operational efficiency. Every dollar that the group raises allows them to give away four books to these children, books that are theirs to keep and to pass on to younger siblings.
Sci-fi/fantasy author Vera Nazarian once said, “Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.” As Bernie’s Book Bank approaches 1.4 million books distributed to those who need them most, perhaps you’ll forgive a humanist organization for making a Biblical reference: Let there be light, indeed.