Kids love to read! It’s a wonderful story that’s never ending.
K is for Kids® Foundation Inc. had its roots planted in 2002 when Naples parent Karen D. Clawson began volunteering in her children’s school library and saw how challenging it was for the media center to keep up with the demand for books — the kids seemed to have an insatiable appetite! Since school children in Collier County, Florida may visit their library and check out books almost every school day, keeping up with hundreds of “young, eager readers,” as librarian Marcia Kolmann noted, was a “wonderful problem.”
Clawson was moved to make a difference for the students of Laurel Oak Elementary School. After organizing a business partners initiative called “Money for Books Drive” to boost the inventory, she realized how easily citizens could enrich children’s lives one book at a time — a book is a powerful gift that keeps on giving and when placed in a children’s library, hundreds receive the gift. There was an added bonus — the ‘trickle down effect’ — as the main library made room for new arrivals, books no longer needed could be given to the teachers’ classroom libraries or directly to the students themselves.
Parents at the school learned of Clawson’s efforts and quickly asked to pitch in. Buoyed by their support and interest, the following year Clawson decided to hold a fundraiser at her home so that neighbors and friends could also be invited to join the cause. As fate would have it, when she discussed ideas with two other parents, Bonnie Winfield and Peggy Avalos, the latter had just received a dinner invitation requesting that each guest also bring an arts and craft item to benefit a local childhood center. “Why not ask guests to bring a book?” Avalos suggested. With the seed planted, Clawson began creating the theme for a luncheon. Searching for a way to spread the message further, she added “bring a friend” to the invitation as well.
Armed with blessings from parents and staff, Clawson launched the first Bring a Book, Bring a Friend® Fun’raiser in her home in 2003. An immediate success, Clawson organized the event for another three years while her children attended Laurel Oak Elementary, each time partnering with a parent who would host the event in their home or gathering spot. Supporters looked forward to visiting a different home and neighborhood of the school and meeting more community and business members who lived or worked there.
While the book drives grew in popularity, more schools began to approach Clawson to hold Bring a Book, Bring a Friend® Fun’raisers. The strong community response and growing need inspired Clawson to incorporate K is for Kids® Foundation in late 2007. The Foundation was given 501(c)(3) educational non-profit status in 2008.
K is for Kids® Foundation promotes not only youth literacy, but youth leadership by inspiring kids to reach out to other kids to create a circle of reading commitment. For the kids and by the kids, the Foundation has a strong Teen Advisory Team, which provides the voice, energy and inspiration that fuels the Foundation’s efforts and mission. While earning community service hours important for high school and college, the teens volunteer in a myriad of ways: delivering books to children and spending time in their classrooms, reading and interacting with youngsters, discussing and helping them draw pictures about stories read; while volunteering at the Foundation’s literacy events, teens help children create storyboards for a collective filmstrip or become young authors as they write their own page for a book published together; and organize fun activities for the children, such as scavenger hunts and face painting. Members of the Teen Advisory Team serve as role models to their younger peers and encourage them to read more so they are ready for the harder texts they will tackle in high school. Teenagers are also engaged in many marketing, planning and creative aspects of the Foundation’s work, designing t-shirts and promotional items; organizing car washes and events to promote public awareness; videotaping Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in which they express their own viewpoints as well as interviewing guest authors and participants; photographing events and guests; writing op-ed pieces, news releases and website posts; and serving as spokespersons. At the K is for Kids® teen meetings, the Team has a chance to be on the receiving end of community support as the Foundation sponsors guest speakers and community leaders who share their life experiences and offer tips for teens in order to help them build stronger communication and leadership skills.
To honor those efforts, Mayor Bill Barnett proclaimed the K is for Kids® Foundation’s Bring a Book, Bring a Friend® for Children’s Literacy Month (first in October 2008, then in February 2010 after the Foundation rescheduled their efforts to coincide with the height of Naples’ social season. Recognition continued to spread when the Collier County Commissioners and Florida’s Governor Rick Scott issued proclamations for February 2011, especially significant for the Foundation as it celebrated its third birthday as a not-for-profit organization.
In its first season, K is for Kids® Foundation noted considerable expansion in the programs and number of children it was able to assist. [See box below.] Currently K is for Kids® Foundation serves all of Collier County targeting underserved children of all ages. Books, both new and gently used, have been distributed through the Building Book Nooks for Kids program to child care centers; preschool, VPK and after school programs; and foster care organizations. Through Friends of the School Library program, books are donated to public school libraries, from preschool through twelfth grade. The Foundation also helps organizations who may not qualify for a grant to conduct their own Fun’raisers and book drives.
From toddlers to teens, K is for Kids® is living up to the motto that its Teen Advisory Team coined, “Bringing books to kids everywhere!”