A school in Paris. A factory filled with treats. The interior of an enormous fruit.
Children are taken to any one of these places in an instant, thanks to the power of books.
“Some children may not be able to venture beyond their neighborhoods,” said Michelle Cook. “Books allow them to go to interesting places, meet new people and experience things far from their daily life.”
Since 2017, Cook’s books have been getting into the hands of children for free. Well, they’re not her books, per se. Just the thousands of books she’s rallied a community to collect.
The novel idea Cook and co-founder Nicol Klingenstein had was to establish Book Drive for Kids, a nonprofit encouraging Dallas-Fort Worth children to discover the joy of reading. The initiative focuses on low- or moderate-income schools.
“I reached out to my friends,” said Cook. “The response was overwhelming with a donation of 2,000 books.”
Think of it as “The Little Engine that Could,” with Book Drive for Kids serving more than 9,600 students and giving away 11,000 books in 2019 alone. For the past two years, Regions Bank has been on board. One $5,000 donation led to the purchase of 6,000 books. Those dollars were doubled thanks to a Reading Is Fundamental matching grant.
Regions’ next gift? $10,000.
“Supporting Book Drive for Kids demonstrates Regions’ investment in education and in our future,” said Tyrus Sanders, Dallas-Fort Worth market executive for Regions. “What makes this partnership even more powerful is that we’re making an investment not only through our dollars, but also through our words, our actions and our people.”
Books allow children to grapple with their emotions in a healthy way. They can process hope, process loss, process fear.
Michelle Cook, Book Drive for Kids co-founder
Two Regions bankers – Oscar Davis and Norma Osorio – lead the Book Drive for Kids volunteer charge. It’s a natural fit given their client base.
“Oscar and Norma are incredibly committed to serving and supporting our charter school clients,” said Sanders. “They are a great example that we can do good, and do well, at the same time by working hard and being personally involved.”
Davis and Osorio were both drawn to Book Drive for Kids for personal reasons. Davis’ love of education was inherited from his late mother, a teacher.
“For me, it started in middle school,” said Davis. “We have a family tree of educators, and it was simply expected that we would help out with the students.”
Osorio credits a fourth-grade teacher who invested in her.
“She went out of her way to spend additional time with me,” reflects Osorio. “She still lives in my heart. Being part of this program makes me feel like I’m continuing her mission of educating children and not seeking anything in return.”
Michelle Cook knows firsthand the Book Drive for Kids is about far more than simply giving a child a book.
“The students see it as, ‘People who don’t know me, but they believe in me and want to give me a gift,’” she said. “We see that every single time. It’s true love. The kids receive it as a gift of love.”
There have been many heartfelt moments at the book fairs. Cook recalls one where a boy looked at the books, walked across the room to give her a hug without saying a word, then returned to the books to make his selection.
Beyond the initial excitement books provide, Cook also notes the long-term benefits they offer.
“Parents are using books to talk about difficult things,” she said. “Books allow children to grapple with their emotions in a healthy way. They can process hope, process loss, process fear.”
Davis and Osorio fondly recall their own favorite childhood books. Osorio enjoyed “Charlotte’s Web;” for Davis, it was a book about civil rights trailblazer Rosa Parks.
“We’re in a different climate right now,” said Davis. “The fighting has to stop, and the love has to begin. We’re seeing the population that’s been left behind. We can be part of the solution by reaching the community one family at a time and help them open doors through reading.”
Osorio notes the significance the Book Drive for Kids places on bilingual materials. “Some of the children only speak Spanish,” said Osorio. “It’s been so important to have Spanish-language books available.”
Cook credits Regions’ support to help make that possible.
“The donation from Regions has really upped our reading game,” said Cook. “It allows us to provide books that are more popular and interesting to students.”
Cook, Davis and Osorio have missed attending book fairs during the past several months with students learning remotely due to COVID-19.
“It really becomes part of the rhythm of their school year,” said Cook. “Right now, we’re waiting but trying to be proactive. When they’re ready, we’ll be there.”
So will Davis and Osorio. Because the next chapter promises to take children to even more amazing places.