Greet the Giver: First Book-Collier County

First reads. Charity provides books to kids

When Joanne Wyss and her husband, Karl, were tutoring pre-K children at Manatee Elementary in Naples, they were shocked to discover that most children from low-income families had almost no books in their homes. This realization led Joanne and Karl to found the Collier County chapter of First Book, a national organization that provides new books to children in need. First Book’s mission addresses one of the most important factors affecting literacy: access to books.

Founded in 2005, First Book-Collier County is a volunteer-run nonprofit that has provided more than 360,000 books to needy children during the last seven years. They currently distribute approximately 55,000 books to 6,800 children each school year. First Book-Collier County distributes books monthly to pre-K, kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade classrooms in Title I Collier County schools. Books selected are related children’s classroom curricula or support the schools’ reading and learning efforts. Each book features a nameplate with the student’s name printed on it. The books provided by First Book-Collier County are often the first books in these children’s homes.

In February, First Book-Collier County received the 2013 Harvey Kapnick Award from the Community Foundation of Collier County for volunteer program excellence in serving children.

1. If you could gather the community and tell them one thing about your charity, what would it be?

We give wonderful, brand-new books to children who have none. Every year, we provide more than 55,000 new books to more than 6,800 disadvantaged young children across Collier County. Virtually every needy child — from pre-K through second grade — receives a book a month during the school year from First Book-Collier County.

The children receive the books in their classrooms, where their teachers build lessons around them. Then the children take their books home to read, share and treasure. Thousands of families are now reading together for the first time.

Since we launched First Book-Collier County in 2005, there are now over 360,000 books in the homes of disadvantaged children in Collier County—books that would otherwise not be there. In most cases, these are truly these children’s’ ‘first books.’

Having books at home is crucial for our neediest children. Studies show that the number of books in the home is a key factor determining children’s reading ability. We also recognized that starting in pre-K is key. If children fall behind in their reading skills in the early years, they are unlikely ever to catch up.

2. What is unique about having a charity in Southwest Florida?

The generosity of this community is remarkable. This is especially important here because unlike most counties across the country, Collier County government provides almost no support to its local charities. The support of donors and grantors is therefore essential to filling unmet needs.

3. What surprises you the most about working with this charity?

The joy on the children’s faces when they receive their books is truly amazing and so satisfying to all of us at First Book-Collier County. The children clutch their books to their hearts and ask, ‘Is this book really mine? Do I get to keep this book?’ Parents tell us that the children value their books more than their toys — and that is a heartwarming surprise!

4. Why did you choose to devote your time to this cause over others?

As a child, I was an avid reader. Books transported me to new and exciting worlds of people, places, and ideas. My initial love of reading led me to build my career in communications, first as an editor in book publishing and later as director of communications for an international consulting firm and founder of my own communications consulting firm. I want to help our neediest children enrich their own worlds — and create a brighter future — through the gift of reading.

5. How does working for your charity make you feel?

Working on behalf of First Book-Collier County is incredibly rewarding. Try to imagine your children or grandchildren growing up without even a single book at home to read. That is the reality facing thousands of Collier County children. Being able to provide these children with a steady supply of books of their very own is enormously gratifying.

Because of First Book National’s buying power, First Book-Collier County is able to purchase first-quality children’s books at a fraction of their retail cost. To help First Book-Collier County provide books to needy children, donations can be made at www.firstbookcolliercounty.org.

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Want to get involved?

To donate by check, make checks payable to CFCC-First Book Fund and mail them to:

First Book-Collier County

1100 5th Ave. S., Ste. 201 | Naples, Fla 34102

Every donation of $2.50 allows First Book-Collier County to purchase one book for a child. A donation of $50 buys a book for every child in a pre-K Head Start program or a Title I elementary school classroom. A donation of $500 buys a whole year’s worth of books for every child in an entire classroom.

To learn more about First Book-Collier County, visit www.firstbookcolliercounty.org.

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