Monday, July 09, 2012

A Request for Help - Book Drive Challenge

A woman I know from my grad program just got a job as the department head for the English department of the Houston CAN! Academy. This school caters primarily to kids in high needs demographics. This school, unfortunately, neither has a library nor can afford to fund one in any capacity other than by providing space. So she's reached out to those of us in the English department at UH to help her put together one for these kids.

As I'm sure you know, easy access to books on a variety of topics is often one of the main keys to success for kids, in terms of education, socialisation, personal development, reasoning/critical thinking development, and simply to keep them out of trouble and on track (similar to after school programs). This topic is really important to me, since books were the thing that kept me (mostly) out of trouble as a kid. Thus, I've decided to take on her cause to get these kids a good library, and I'm coordinating efforts with her to get word of the book drive to as many people as possible, as well as to pick up and delivery the books.

So far, I've posted about it to the Houston FreeCycle list, Facebook, have asked the teacher program for math/science I was in during my undergrad to put out collection boxes for the books (which they agreed to!), and have gotten my former (as of today) boss at the pub I'd been working at to let me put out signs and collection boxes around the pub (Firkin and Phoenix) for people to donate books (which he also agreed to!). Starting today, I began driving all over the metroplex to pick up books from the people who already are responding to this need. And now I'm coming to you for help with this too.

ANY book, for ANY age range, on ANY subject is wanted: history, literature, popular fiction, philosophy, math, art, religion, science, cooking, gardening; EVERYTHING is needed and wanted for these kids. Establishing a library for these kids could make all the difference for many of them.

So what I need from you guys is this: if you want to help out with this, please leave me a comment with your email address and/or phone number. Then I can get in touch with you and give you an address to mail these books to (media mail is the least expensive way to ship books, as the USPS gives a discount for book shipments). If you're local to me (i.e., in the Houston metroplex), then we can work out a time and place for me to come pick them up directly from you.

And here's a copy of her original email:

"I am emailing you with a sense of urgency in my heart that I have not
felt in a long time. I was recently hired by Teach For America (TFA).
TFA's mission is to put high caliber leaders into the classrooms of high-
needs students. CAN! students are high risk and at least 90% of these
students are impoverished. I am set to start teaching in the fall for a
Houston CAN! Academy. I attended orientation at my campus today and am
disheartened, but not surprised, to say that they do not have a library.
They have space for a library but no library. Yes, they have some books
(maybe 100 for the hundreds of students attending) but not the depth of
literature needed to improve comprehension, fluency, and enjoyment of
reading. I have been given the task of heading the English Department at
my campus and leading the ESL program. I am not doing my job if I do not
pull in the resources my students (and any student) needs to succeed. I
have set a big goal for myself and my school. I am going to give these
kids the library they deserve. Even a modest library can make the world
of difference, as I'm sure you know. I myself come from humble
beginnings. I have experienced child abuse and homelessness. I even had
to sign myself out of high school during my senior year (as an AP
student) because the homeless shelter I lived in was far from school and
required me to get a job to support myself. I know the value of books,
education, and those few stellar teachers who kept my spark bright. I
always say, "Education, music, and sports saved my life." I was lucky
enough to be extremely self-motivated to finish high school with honors
and move on to be the student commencement speaker at my university's
graduation. I had no familial support and did it alone. Houston CAN!
Academy students don't have to. I think the community can show these
students just how much support and belief it has for all children. I
have been given the go ahead to do and implement whatever I see fit. I
have been told that the sky is the limit. CAN! needs and wants teachers
to be creative and take initiative to achieve great things for its
students (I am one of ten teachers on my campus). I can read between the
lines, though, and I know that "creative" and taking "initiative" are
going to be key to positive changes. The school has grades 9-12 (14
years to 21 years old) and I am seeking to collect book donations this
summer so these kids can start the school year off right. After all, I
cannot spend precious time collecting books throughout the school year
when it will be too late to be of use for the 2012-13 school year. I am
seeking any and all literature. From poetry to literary criticism to
history to science and math to hobbies to folklore and musicology...I
want it all for my kids and grade level appropriateness is not
important. Comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency can be drastically
improved when students are presented tougher texts. Still, I won't throw
Derrida in front of them just yet. They do not even have Shakespeare
among the extremely small and limited number of books they do have.
Would it be possible for you to send this email to all staff and
students in the department? If so, I think the best plan of action would
be for me to drop off a couple (or ten) storage bins at the English
Department office where people could easily (and at their own
convenience within the parameters of office hours) drop off book
donations. I can swing by periodically this summer to empty the bins. I
have faith that literature lovers will rally around my cause! I'm
starting this library in the making off with several of my most
cherished books from the last two semesters and those I've been
collecting along the way. I sincerely hope this sort of book drive will
not only be okay to begin but will turn out books from the woodwork for
kids who desperately need to get lost in literature and who deserve such
resources.

Thank you very much for any assistance you can provide regarding
this matter."

TIA for helping us to put together a great library for these kids! I'll make sure to post regular updates so y'all know how the library book drive is coming along!

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