Nearly 500 eager hands shot into the air in the cafeteria of Vegas Verdes Elementary School on May 28 when students were asked if they liked to read.
Cheering and clapping ensued after the children learned they would be receiving books to take home and keep.
“We’re a little but mighty school, and our kids definitely need the support,” said principal Alice Roybal-Benson. “Every book, every new opportunity, every read-out-loud, every book buddy that you provide to our school makes such a difference for our kids academically.”
The school, 4000 W. El Parque Ave., became the 30th adopted by Spread the Word Nevada, a youth literacy nonprofit that encourages children to develop academic achievement, self-confidence and a love of reading.
Partnering with Bank of America, the nonprofit provided five age-appropriate books and a tote bag for “safekeeping” to each student, according to executive director Lisa Habighorst.
“When the students come back in the fall, they’ll receive one book each month from us, totaling nine books each school year,” Habighorst said. “If a child is with us their whole elementary schooling, they’ll receive about 75 books to add to their personal libraries.”
With 30 adopted schools across the valley, the nonprofit is set to serve 24,000 students each month. Once a school is adopted, it will continue to receive support “forever and always,” Habighorst said.
“Our target is two schools a year when funding permits,” Habighorst said. “We adopt schools that have 80 percent free or reduced lunch rates, so they have the very lowest income families.
“We have 30 more schools on our waiting list, and we’ve adopted 30. We’re halfway there.”
Habighorst and Laurie Hartig started the nonprofit in 2001 from spare bedrooms at their homes.
“We would clean and collect the books at night and give them away by day,” Habighorst said. “It grew from rooms to our garages to mini storages in our backyard to rental storage units. Now we’re in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse with a staff of 15.”
Since its inception, the organization has distributed more than 2.7 million new and gently used books to 350,000 at-risk children in the valley.
“Books are escapes for children,” Habighorst said. “Most of them only know what’s in their neighborhood. They haven’t experienced anything that’s not right in front of them, so this is opening their minds to what might be possible for them.”
Spread the Word Nevada was a recipient of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation’s 2013 Neighborhood Builders Award totaling $200,000. The company received 85 local applications for the grant, according to George Smith, president of Bank of America Nevada.
“We’ve been supporters (of Spread the Word Nevada) from when they started working in their garages, so we’ve seen the quality of the team over the years,” Smith said. “Getting books to these children at a young age we think goes a long way in improving literacy and helping education. It makes a big difference.”
Habighorst said the award money is set to be used to adopt additional schools and create a summer reading program this year with Three Square food bank.
“Our concern is that these children aren’t getting any support throughout the summer,” Habighorst said. “That’s three months of sitting in a room and not getting past their world. By partnering with Three Square, they will be serving the children meals where we will be serving the children’s books. We’ll be feeding their bodies as well as their minds.”
The nonprofit also provides mentoring and family literacy programs.
“In a lot of cases, it’s hard for some of us to realize that these are families without resources to have books in their homes,” Habighorst said. “We are allowing (children) to have the tools for a much brighter future.”
For more information or to donate, visit spreadthewordnevada.org or call 702-564-7809.
Contact Southwest View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at email@example.com or 702-383-0403.