As an education specialty major at Augusta State University, Marsha Boasso discovered a way to improve the quality of educational programs in the area.
Marsha Boasso, co-chairwoman of First Books-CSRA, gives a presentation about the program to teachers and paraprofessionals, including Mary Jo Weegar (from left), Annie W. Robinson, LaVerne Funderburk, Arleen Small and Rachel Williams at the CSRA Reading Council at Augusta State University.
As a student teacher, Boasso discovered pupils were unable to do their homework because they didn't have a dictionary at home. Wanting to help the children, Boasso decided she would go to the Salvation Army and Goodwill and buy dictionaries for the children. The dictionaries she found were not age-appropriate for her pupils.
It was then that Boasso learned of First Book, a national nonprofit organization that gives children from low-income families their own books.
Because one of the requirements for Boasso's degree was that she volunteer at a nonprofit organization, she decided to combine her requirement to volunteer with the need for dictionaries, founding First Book-CSRA.
"I heard about First Book ... then we formed a local advisory to begin raising money. The First Book-CSRA is different because we added a stipulation that at least one of the books (each child receives) be an age-appropriate dictionary," Boasso said.
The First Book-CSRA Advisory Board is a group of volunteers who distribute the books, vote on applications and chooses what type of book will be best for each organization.
All books are distributed at no cost to the children or the organization, and the children take the books home to keep. Boasso leads the board with her daughter, Sarah Allen.
"She's co-chair because she's my daughter, and I browbeat her into doing it," Boasso said with a laugh. "No, actually, she got interested in it with me, and she helps share the responsibilities. There's a lot of paperwork, and she helps share it all."
"There is a strong correlation between illiteracy and school dropouts, poverty, dependence on welfare and imprisonment," Boasso said.
To institute First Book in the Augusta area, Boasso had to provide statistics on the poverty levels in the area.
"People think there's no poverty in Columbia County,'' she said.
Boasso used statistics from the area's "free lunch" eligibility program for her application to First Book. She said the "free-lunch stats are not accurate, because First Book serves ages 0 to 18. People may think babies don't need to read, but unless they are exposed to books at a very young age, they will have no phonemic awareness, and they will not be able to succeed in school."
"Many children entering school don't even know that a book goes from front to back," Boasso said.
"Parents say the child knows their ABC's, but in fact they do not. They know the ABC song, but they can't apply that to letters."
First Book-CSRA is looking for businesses and individuals to help raise funds or make donations.
"Our being able to serve depends on financial donations. You could go to the bookstore and buy a book for $12 and donate it to us. But through First Book, we could buy that same book for $2.50. Augusta West Stamp Guild donated $500, and we were able to buy 200 books with that," Boasso said.
Boasso urges teachers and directors of nonprofit organizations that serve low-income families and incorporate reading into their activities to apply for a distribution grant. First Book-CSRA hopes to distribute one book each month to every child attending year-round programs, and one book each week to every child attending summer programs.
Examples of organizations that First Book distributes through are libraries, soup kitchens, church basements, housing projects, boys clubs and girls clubs, and any other nonprofit setting.
First Book-CSRA serves programs in Richmond, Columbia, Burke, McDuffie, Lincoln, Edgefield and Jefferson counties. Deadlines are April 15 for summer distributions and July 15 for fall distributions.
For more information, send an e-mail to Marsha Boasso or Sarah Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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