This week, a message from Director of Service Initiatives Emily Reichman:
As Jews, we are “the people of the book.” During these High Holy Days, we pray to be written in the Book of Life. Books—education—are central to our identity, and as immigrants to this country, we experienced the power of reading in unlocking opportunities for generations in our new homeland.
New research confirms what we as Jews have always known instinctively, that “the best predictor of future education achievement and life success is reading ability.”* But here in Massachusetts, 43% of third-graders cannot read at grade level.** One big obstacle is access to books.
In families where making ends meet is a challenge, buying books can be an unattainable luxury. In addition, many Boston Public School libraries have closed due to a lack of resources to staff and maintain them.
This summer, we at JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) approached Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with an idea to address this problem. We were grateful that they had donated 850 books to us in the past, but we wondered if they might consider a more substantive donation, one that would enable our young friends to start their own home libraries. They responded enthusiastically, increasing their donation this year to 4,700 books, at a value of over $85,000. These books will be delivered into the hands of thousands of excited students, teachers, and volunteers all over Greater Boston.
As two FedEx delivery drivers unloaded boxes upon boxes holding these 4,700 books into GBJCL volunteer Alison Wintman’s home, they asked her where the seven pallets of books were headed. On hearing her answer, the drivers responded: “That makes it all worth it; this is awesome, just awesome.”
We are distributing these books to 25 of our partner schools and nearly 100 different classrooms in an intergenerational community undertaking. Alison, who is a dedicated volunteer at the Bates Elementary School in Roslindale, served as the distribution center for the books. Aviva Bernstein, a bat mitzvah student from Temple Beth Shalom in Needham worked with her family to label the books. GBJCL interns oversaw the distribution, recruiting their college friends to sort the books and schlep them to the schools.
As excited as our volunteers were to help their students build their home libraries, the main focus of their work is the tutoring they lovingly provide, every week through the course of the school year. And for some volunteers, one school year has turned into twenty! One such volunteer is Nancy Krieger, from the Temple Beth Shalom team.
“Over these 20 years, the one constant is: We are all energized and inspired by our ‘relationships,’“ she said. “The love and caring the children express when they see us never ceases to endear me. To the students, I am known as ‘Dancy Nancy,‘ and it is incredibly gratifying to have the students greet me with a smile, a hug, and a deep breath as they set off on their next task. Their levels of academic achievement increase every month. Having the opportunity to work with these children is a privilege and a delight.”
Florence Scott-Hiser, a teacher at the Ohrenberger school where the Temple Emanuel team volunteers, notes: “I have seen the impact [GBJCL volunteers] have made, not only in my classroom but throughout the building. There is nothing more joyful than a child connecting with an adult and enjoying learning. Parents here are often working two jobs, so reading with their children is just an impossibility. As a parent and an educator, I know reading with your child is one of the most important ways a child grows.”
We are continuing the work we began in response to President Clinton’s call in 1997 for a million volunteers to address literacy on a national level. We created GBJCL as the pilot program for a new National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, founded by the legendary social justice hero Leonard Fein, z”l. By connecting Jewish volunteers to high-needs public schools, their expertise is leveraged to support both students and teachers. Now, over 20 years later, GBJCL volunteers have tutored over 10,000 students.
Our volunteers are currently gearing up to return to their partner schools throughout Greater Boston, to share their love of reading with another generation of new friends. Join this effort by getting involved in GBJCL tutoring services or library projects by emailing Rebecca Shimshak, Director of GBJCL, or visiting the GBJCL webpage to learn more.