Children turn new page with help from Bridge of Books Foundation

Staff Writer

As hundreds of children begin new lives with their “forever families” following National Adoption Day events, they will also be able to begin their own personal “little libraries” because of the efforts of the nonprofit Bridge of Books Foundation.

The Bridge of Books Foundation, in partnership with the New Jersey Division of Children and Family Services, has provided 800 children who were adopted out of foster care in the state’s 21 counties, with colorful tote bags full of new, age-appropriate books to begin their own family library.

“It’s an investment in all our futures,” said Abigail Daly, founder and executive director of the Bridge of Books Foundation. “Every child deserves books in their home. Books have the power to change lives – providing an understanding of the world, en- couraging imagination and promoting dreams.”

The Bridge of Books Foundation was founded in 2003 and provides an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and atrisk children throughout the state.

Daly said this is the first year the nonprofit has formally participated in National Adoption Day events and she said it has been a great way to support literacy skills and encourage a love of reading to those less fortunate.

“We are always looking for new ways to get books to kids who need them and the bags of books concept has been on our minds for quite a while,” she said.

“After superstorm Sandy … what we noticed was the FEMA centers had kids who were not back in school, who were coming with their parents and just sitting there for hours while their parents were filling out forms and applications. “So we put together bags of preschool books and distributed probably 300 [bags] through the FEMA centers and we have been seeing how we could expand that program to reach even more children ever since,” she added.

Daly said participating in National Adoption Day, which is an effort to raise awareness for the more than 100,000 children currently in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving homes, allowed the nonprofit to have a greater impact on more children and their new siblings.

“This was kind of our first project under what we are calling our My Little Library Program,” she said. “This was our first partnership with the Division of Children and Family Services and we distributed just over 800 bags to children being adopted out of foster care across the state.”

According to Daly, in addition to providing books for the children who were adopted, bins of books were also sent to each vicinage where the adoptions were occurring for the siblings to choose from so as not to feel left out.

“Our mission is to raise the discussion on a more daily level and on a more community wide basis about the real gap that exists in access to books among children,” Daly said. “The way we do that is by distributing books anywhere we can find kids who are underserved and need access to books.

“Working with the Division of Children and Family Services, we did a big statewide distribution … [and] for us it is one more way to really raise awareness about this gap in access and a way to reinforce the fact that we can solve this problem by working together as a community,” she said.

So far in 2015, more than 100,000 books have been donated to children across the state.

“In the last four weeks we have had teachers in Camden, southern New Jersey, Newark and Freehold literally tell us they all have students who do not have books in their homes and they are so thankful to get books from us because then their kids can practice the skills they are learning,” Daly said.

“It’s a neat project and we are looking forward to doing it again next year and figuring out where our next partnership will be to distribute even more of these bags with books for children,” she said.

As part of the My Little Library Program, the foundation worked with the Rider University School of Education to create a Parent Guide To Reading, which was enclosed in each child’s tote bag.

The pamphlet is a guide that encourages parents to make a commitment to read with their child every day.

“Oftentimes the reality is that a lot of these children come from homes where the parents are just worried about keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and keeping their jobs,” Daly said.

“I really feel that the development of literacy skills occurs in the home as well as the school so what we did was … partner with Rider to create a very simple menu to hopefully give the parents some guidance on how to use these books and how to use them to engage with their kids.

“If kids see their parents are enjoying reading, they will develop a love of books themselves [and I think] it is all about giving kids and their parents the tools they need to create a family of lifelong learners,” she said.

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