(Buffalo, N.Y) – The Books for Kids literacy program is entering its 23rd year of helping children from underserved neighborhoods in western New York increase their reading habits.
To date, Books For Kids has collected and distributed nearly 2.5 million books to schools, libraries and organizations that have philanthropies focused on childhood education.
Dr. Geraldine Bard, professor of English at Buffalo State and co-director of Project Flight, appeared on the Buffalo Review April 10 to discuss the program she co-founded with Dr. Betty Cappella, who is also a professor at Buffalo State.
Cappella once asked, “Can a book stop a bullet,” which Bard said is the idea behind the program.
“We believe that if you go to any of the prisons, you go to the holding center, you find people incarcerated who are not very literate. There are not a lot of opportunities for people who have low literacy skills,” said Bard.
She said literacy rates are often tied to poverty rates.
“Research indicates that children from impoverished households will hear far, far fewer words than children from middle-class households or from children who live in households with parents who are professionals or college educated,” said Bard.
“We’re talking about brain development. When you have a child who has heard 30 million more words by the age of 3 than a child who has not heard that number of words, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that in the 9th grade both children will not be as successful in school.”
She said poverty rates in western New York have risen over the past 10 years and roughly half of the children in Buffalo live in poverty.
“We keep hovering between number three and number two in child poverty rate in the country, in Buffalo,” said Bard.
Students from Buffalo State have often worked for the program, which she said has helped to expand its reach.
Bard said students in study abroad programs have helped to donate books in places such as Africa, Haiti and Gambia. However, most of the books donated are distributed to students in western New York.
“With literacy, children are able to get out of their environment and learn about different worlds, other places,” said Bard.
* Nick Lombardo, Tiara Mitchell and Joseph Kasko contributed to this report.