Promising Pages

Promising Pages

The world becomes infinitely bigger when a child is given a book. There, they discover new worlds, life lessons, and exciting opportunities. But another world-changing opportunity arises when a child shares a book with another. This is what the charity Promising Pages is all about.

The Charlotte, North Carolina based charity began by regifting books children had outgrown to others who couldnt afford them. We have more than 62,000 children living in a book desert: a low-income or under-resourced area with homes that have little to no access to books,” explains Kelly Cates, Executive Director of Promising Pages and a Professional Bookworm. Gently used book donations were collected from the community and volunteers would clean and gift-wrap the books to be distributed to children in underserved elementary schools. For the last seven years, our distribution model has centered around student choice. Kids are more likely to read books they choose themselves and we hate to see a good book go to waste.”

Promising Pages primarily serves Title 1 schools, nonprofit organizations, childcare centers, and affordable housing communities all serving children and families living at or below the poverty level. At least 95% of our students are children of color and about half are English language learners,” says Kelly. Diverse and bilingual books are a huge need for us and is one of the reasons we joined the Diverse Books for All Coalition, led by First Book.

Their impact has been life changing for the children, their families, and the team at Promising Pages. I have had mother’s break down in tears after receiving books and children scream with excitement after hearing they get to choose and keep free books from our book fairs,” shares Kelly.One particular story inspired me several years ago to make bilingual books a priority for our non-English speaking families. There was a little girl who was learning English after her and her single mom came to this country. The little girl loved to read but the books she brought home from school were only in English. Her mother wasn’t able to speak English, much less read it, and wasn’t able to read to her daughter at bedtime or help her with her schoolwork. I didn’t have a budget to purchase bilingual books at the time, so I had native speakers translate some donated easy readers and we turned them into bilingual books for the family. Watching this young mother being able to read to her child in her native language really brought home how many parents are losing out on the opportunities shared reading provides just because they don’t have access to bilingual books.”

Promising Pages believes that books are foundational to literacy development and literacy is the key to breaking cycles of poverty. When children have books in their homes they have more opportunity to develop the skills needed to become successful in school and ultimately in life.

Our organization approaches book access on a systems level but the majority of our books flow through three main programs,” explains Kelly. Our Community Partner Program or ‘book bank’ provides free books to 250+ community organizations serving under-resourced children. With a focus on addressing summer learning loss, our Books on Break program ensures PreK-5th grade students at 23 elementary schools have books to read over the summer months. Our newest program Bookseed works directly with affordable housing communities to provide home libraries of 25 books to every child from birth to 5th grade.”

They also ensure each community served receives either a Free Little Library or Reading Resources center. Additionally, Promising Pages partners with local literacy groups, libraries, tutoring centers, and through the mail via Dolly Partons Imagination Library for additional free book resources for families.

In addition, Promising Pages has established an online retail store call The Bookworm Shop. Kelly and her team have been enthused by the overwhelming response and proudly wear their Professional Bookworm” t-shirts—that Kelly had made for them—to book distribution events and around town to share their pride and drum up interest. Our team got stopped so many times by people asking where we got our shirts that we decided to launch an online store and sell them! It hasn’t really made a lot of money for us but now we have a place to send all of the hardcore bookworms that want one.”

Despite the long hours and sometimes unrecognized work, Kelly and her team are driven by love of books and their desire to raise readers. I’ve been a reader all of my life and an educator and child-advocate for half of that,” says Kelly. Nonprofit work seems impossible some days and it’s very easy to get bogged down in building something beautiful with only toothpicks and bubble gum (I swear I’m actually not jaded). After seven+ years of putting as many books as I can back into my community I still geek out when I walk through our warehouse and find a book I’ve never seen before or think, ‘challenge accepted’ when a kid tells me they ‘hate to read.’ Those of us who love to read will always want others to love to read as well, I just happen to have a warehouse full of free books!”

And their hard work has paid off. It has gifted thousands of books and given them renewed purpose. Each day, Kelly and her team see first-hand how children and families appreciate the precious gift of books and encourage us all to be mindful of their value. Don’t stop buying books, especially from your local bookstores!” says Kelly. Teach your children to be kind to books and for goodnesssake stop dog-earing the pages! Bookmarks are your friend.” And when youre ready to part with your books she encourages donating them to children through local book charities or ones found via National Book Access. She also encourages parents to let their children choose their own books because it will increase their desire to read.

Childrens access to high-quality books is an often-unrecognized problem resulting in book deserts nationwide. But there are numerous ways to make a difference, from monthly donations to Promising Pages and other book charities, to donating gently used books.

If money was no object, and children had homes filled with books they loved, we’d eventually have communities full of empathetic, intelligent, and mentally & physically healthy individuals with steady incomes,” says Kelly. Let’s aim for that.”

To learn more, donate a book, and support their efforts, visit the Promising Pages website. 

Images courtesy of Promising Pages. 

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