Literacy is a gift, one to be treasured and fostered in others — but without access to print materials, many children grow up in book-starved homes and miss out on a lot of opportunities for bonding, growth and enjoyment.
Few know the benefits of reading better than Jennifer Williams of Chatham, Virginia.
“Books are important to me,” she told CNN. “My mother was a librarian, and she would read to us until we went off to college — not just off to kindergarten — but to college.”
“[Reading] can take you anywhere. You can travel in time and space. If you can read, you can learn almost anything.”
Williams has read countless books to others, including the children she tutors.
She realized one day several years ago that the children she worked with longed to keep the books they read together, but since they had to be shared, she couldn’t give them away.
So she started with a simple goal: to give out 300 books to kids in the building projects she tutored in.
Donations came in from neighbors and church members, and she was able to meet her goal. But it only whetted her appetite for giving.
“My husband was like, ‘Wow, congratulations,’ and I was like ‘Well, anybody can do that,'” Williams said.
“I told him, ‘I want to give away a million books.'”
“I want them to find a book that they love, that inspires them to want to find more great stories and keep reading,” Williams told WDBJ-TV.
And the donations keep coming in.
“I’ve lived in this town for 35 years,” she told CNN. “I went to all my friends’ kids’ ball games — now, my community has come together and said, ‘You’ve always helped us, now let us help you.'”
That’s not the only way she sends books out into the world. She also stocks over a dozen local, small free libraries and leaves books in places kids might find them.
“By now, a lot of people know the ‘book lady’ has been there,” she said.
Williams also holds a book club at a nearby jail, and just that outreach alone has created strikingly positive ripple effects in the families of the inmates.
“I had this mom come up to me and tell me that every time I gave [the club] a new book, her teenagers would download it at home,” Williams explained. “Now, when she calls them, they have something else to talk about.”
Based on recent updates she’s posted to the Facebook group “Joy of Reading,” she’s given out a total of 63,206 books as of March 6. That’s a respectable number, and yet she’s still got a long way to go.
“My goal is to keep doing what I do,” Williams told CNN. “The world is full of people who are just complaining. I’m just going to roll up my sleeves and try to do something to help.”
No doubt she’ll come up with more and more clever ways to get books into eager hands and enrich the lives of children near and far.
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