It's not about getting books to kids. It's about getting kids the books they want.
"Research shows that kids who get to select their own books and keep them become better readers," Ruby Wiles, founder of Free Books for Kids Town, said.
"Free Books for Kids Town was my idea to get books in the hands of kids in Warren County," Wiles said. "Warren is the one and only, very first Free Books for Kids Town in the country."
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Books for kids
Free Books for Kids Town team member Natalie Buvoltz-Massa, dressed as the Dr. Seuss character Cat in the Hat, reads with Drake Lawson in front of crates of Free Books for Kids Town books. The organization will give away books at the Month of the Young Child event at Jefferson DeFrees Family Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
She hopes to see the program grow and has set a goal of 50 towns. To achieve that goal, she knows success in Warren will come first. "We need to step up to the plate," she said.
The program is not limited to a particular age. "It's open for the earliest readers to high school," Wiles said.
Through the summer months, many young students lose much of the progress they made in reading during the past school year, she said. "It takes 10 to 20 books (at home) to not lose their ability to read over the summer. Imagine a teacher that doesn't have to start all over."
While all students have access to books through the program, Wiles is hoping to give an extra boost to the youngest readers.
"We're making a big push to get books in the hands of second graders," she said. "That's when it clicks."
In terms of encouraging a student to read, any book counts. Wiles said there is nothing wrong with a comic book or any other age-appropriate book if the student will read it. "If kids want to read it, that's what we want," she said.
Wiles is a fan of the Warren Public Library and other libraries in the county, but most of the youngsters who can benefit from them are not within walking distance. So, they need books of their own at home, she said.
But the high poverty rate in the county means many youngsters don't have books, she said.
"If you don't have money for food and you don't have money for a roof over your head, you don't have money for books," Wiles said. "I'm out to do something about it."
A number of Warren area businesses - Allegheny Cyclery, Allegheny Outfitters, Authors Bookstore, Blair Factory Outlet, Crone's Drug Store, Gaughn's Drug Store, Herbs R4U2, Howe's True Value, Jock Shop, NY Style Deli and Pizza, Toriella's Treats, Phase Two, Plaza Restaurant, Valone's Shoe Store, Virg-Ann Flower Shop, Watt's Office Supply, and Wellness Cafe - have signed on as sponsoring locations.
"Books are also available at our partner locations - Warren County Assistance Office, Warren Salvation Army, WIC Office, Warren County Probation Office, Warren General Hospital Emergency Room, Warren General Hospital Dental Clinic, and the Warren County YMCA," Wiles said.
McKissock LP has provided Wiles with the most help so far. "McKissock has provided an office and a phone," Wiles said. Her number is 800-328-2008 extension 211. There is a donation box at McKissock's back door.
Free Books for Kids Town also has a Facebook presence.
Thanks to funding from Blair, the program will hold a book giveaway at the Month of the Young Child event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Jefferson DeFrees Family Center.
Also on Saturday, "All the book crates will be full" and many of the downtown partners will also offer chances to win gift certificates and other gifts, Wiles said. "Saturday is going to be a great day to be in downtown Warren."
Wiles and her team have created free book coupons - which are not required to pick up a book at a Free Book for Kids Town participating member - that list participating locations and allow space for students to fill in what grade they are in and what kinds of books they like.
"We're always looking for feedback," Wiles said.
When Book Angels - people who want to help out the program by finding books and donating them - go out looking for books, knowing what kids want to read helps.
The Book Angels are only one part of Wiles' vision.
"We're also looking for investors," she said. She describes the organization as not-for-profit, but it is not yet a 501(c)(3).
She is looking for more businesses and organizations to participate as sponsor locations throughout the county, and the group needs volunteers.
"We're going to be doing these book giveaways and we need people to go with us," she said. Whether the group is working in a school or at a giveaway event, there are benefits for the volunteers as the students.
"It's just so fun to see a child who's gotten one of these books," she said.
"One of my biggest goals was to help people become what God wanted them to be," she said. "This is going to have a great payoff. Kids who are readers are going to make a bigger difference in the world."
She said students who are readers are more likely to be able to imagine themselves with positive futures and those students are going to be more resistant to societal instant gratification problems like drugs and alcohol.
"I think kids would be transformed if they were able to select their own books," Wiles said. "The joy of this work is seeing the kids' lives changed."