Chatter Chattanoogan works with schools and businesses to bring reading home

Chatter Chattanoogan works with schools and businesses to bring reading home

January 1st, 2017 by Myron Madden in Chatter

Photo: Doug Strickland

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Home Bound

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“Anytime we can get a literacy resource into the hands of our students … it brings good results.”
Gail Huffstutler, East Ridge Elementary School Principal

HOMEBOUND

So far, five local businesses have joined HomeBound in its push for increased literacy, and the partnerships benefit customers as well as students.

* Good Dog: Every Wednesday, Good Dog offers 10 percent off your purchase if you donate children’s books at its North Shore location. Or, bring your little ones with books to donate and they’ll eat for free.

* Winder Binder: Winder Binder offers 30 percent off used children’s books bought to be donated, as well as 10 percent off any other store purchase made that day.

* Merchants on Main: During Mainx24 on Dec. 3, Merchants on Main offered 10 percent off any in-store purchase with the donation of a book. Stay tuned for future opportunities by following HomeBound on Facebook.

* The FEED Co. Table and Tavern: Stay tuned for future opportunities by following HomeBound on Facebook.

* Ridgemont Apartments: Stay tuned for future opportunities by following HomeBound on Facebook.

Timeline

(made from Facebook Posts)

Aug. 4: HELP! I’ve decided to start a project collecting children’s books to donate to local inner city schools this Christmas for the children to take home. A lot of schools can’t afford to let their students take books home from the classroom because they may never get them back. While that is completely understandable, I believe every child’s home should be filled with books in order to practice reading skills, comprehension, and creativity. I’ll keep working on adjustments to figure out the best way to make this work, BUT for now.. If anyone has any books laying around that they would like to donate to my project I would be forever thankful! You can even write some positive messages in the front cover for the kids to read if you’d like! Thanks, You guys are awesome!

Aug. 27: This is Karen, she made my night. She just heard about my #HomeBound book project yesterday, and she has already made a huge donation // today her husband called and asked what she wanted for their anniversary, she said “I want books for Kelsey!” So, he bought her a ton a books and she brought them today. It was SUCH a pleasure meeting her, and she brightened my whole night :)

I can’t believe this one little dream I had is growing and growing fast, it is so so awesome to have so many people willing to help out. It hasn’t even been two days and I already have over twenty books, and so many people willing to help out! God is good and I am so so thankful!

Aug. 30: I’ve got my beautiful graphic designer helping design some flyers to hang around town, thanks sis!

Sept. 18: Nothing inspires me more than watching kids help kids!! // so so thankful for all of the help and parents who show their kids the importance of giving.

Sept. 28: They’re taking over the apartment, and I couldn’t be happier // headed to pick up even more books today! #homebound #bringingreadingbackhome #nonprofit #local #chattanooga #letdothis

Nov 9: My original bookshelf volunteers fell through, however… A super awesome co-worker of mine volunteered to come to the rescue! … can’t wait to see the final result! // OUR COMMUNITY IS AWESOME! #homeboundbooks #bringingreadingbackhome #letsdothis #together #volunteer #bookshelf #building #fromscratch #talent #thankful.

Nov. 11: ***EXCITING NEWS! //This girl just got a call from Chatter magazine and set up an interview on Tuesday because they’re going to…. Wait for it… FEATURE HOMEBOUND IN THEIR NEXT ISSUE! #homeboundbooks #bringingreadingbackhome #letsdothis #together #chattermagazine #chattanooga #nonprofit #supportlocal #thankful #excited #happykels

Stay updated on HomeBound’s progress by checking out facebook.com/homeboundbookS

 

Much to her twin sister's displeasure, the patio in Kelsey Butler's cozy North Chattanooga apartment is flooded with books. But they're not for her.

Hidden among the 800 or so books towering over the furniture are literary classics like Green Eggs and Ham, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Charlotte's Web. While the 22-year-old FEED Co. bartender is not opposed to the occasional trip down memory lane, she is hoping her new project, HomeBound Books, will find each colorful children's title a more suitable home.

A recent education graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Butler first saw the need for a program like hers while student-teaching at Battle Academy. For 30 minutes a day, she would pull individual students aside for reading coaching to enhance their literary skills. During her sessions, she asked each child if they read at home — and was surprised to find that of the seven, three didn't even have books at home.

"And that just broke my heart," Butler says.

Like most, Butler knew the statistics. She had heard the U.S. Department of Education's proclamations that the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores soared. She had studied reports from journals like Research in Social Stratification and Mobility showing that children who grew up in homes with at least 20 books got three more years of schooling than their bookless counterparts. But it wasn't just facts and figures that shattered her inside.

Growing up, Butler's father habitually read to her and her sister, and those memories are now some of her most cherished. He read the twins books like Junie B. Jones, A Series of Unfortunate Events and even wrote a book called Lucy Bucy to share with the girls.

"So it breaks my heart that people don't have that," Butler says.

Literary studies have shown that more than half of low-income families are without age-appropriate reading material for their children. For many of those families, books and library fees are not a priority in the budget, so Butler determined to help all local kids bring reading home.

The Gift of Reading

HomeBound began where so many other 21st century movements have started: on Facebook. In August 2016, Butler made a post asking friends to help her donate children's books to inner-city elementary schools for Christmas.

"A lot of schools can't afford to let their students take books home from the classroom because they may never get them back," she wrote. "While that is completely understandable, I believe every child's home should be filled with books in order to practice reading skills, comprehension, and creativity. If anyone has any books laying around that they would like to donate to my project I would be forever thankful!"

Within minutes, friends were reaching out to offer their support, and everyone who heard about the project seemed eager to help. Over the next couple of days, Butler's aunt sent her two packages of books, a classmate from high school sent her a boxful, and a stranger even asked her husband to donate books as an anniversary gift to her. As books started pouring in from friends and family, acquaintances and strangers, Butler realized her idea had evolved way beyond a one-time Christmas gift.

So she started thinking bigger.

Instead of just one school, Butler realized she could impact reading in many schools. Her plan was simple: She would build a brightly colored 3-by-4-foot bookshelf for each school and place it in, near or just outside the cafeteria, where the most students would see it. Each shelf would be filled with about 300 donated books, all tagged with stickers to separate them from school-owned reading material, and each child would be able to take one book at a time. Once the student was done reading the book, he or she would sign his or her name at the back to provide a sense of accomplishment, and return it to the shelf, free to pick up another.

"So, hopefully that'll keep it circulating and keep them reading as many books as possible," Butler says.

Unlike the schools, she decided she would not be concerned about kids who failed to return their books. Students would be encouraged to keep each item for no more than two weeks, but if they misplaced it, they would suffer no consequences and be charged no fines.

"If your dog chews it, then go get another book off the shelf. If your sister takes it, then go get another book off the shelf. And honestly, if the kid just loves it and wants to keep it, then we're not going to complain about it because it's better they have a book at home than nothing," she says. "It's free and exciting and no stress."

The longer Butler thought about her idea, the larger it grew, and soon she was entertaining the possibility of turning her small project into a multi-state nonprofit. But before she could make any of those dreams a reality, she knew she would need more schools, more shelves and more books.

Build a Better Future

Over the last few months, Butler reached out to the principals at East Ridge Elementary School, Big Ridge Elementary School and East Lake Elementary School, officials with whom she had a personal connection, and told them about her project. Each one was just as excited as Butler to give their students a voice and choice in what they read.

"Any time we can get a literacy resource into the hands of our students it brings good results," says East Ridge Principal Gail Huffstutler.

Each time her students are given a choice in what they read, their desire to read more frequently grows, she explains, and she has seen correlations in the amount of time spent reading and gains in achievement test scores.

"We're just really appreciative of this opportunity," Huffstutler says. "We have so many kids that come from backgrounds where they may or may not have quality literature in their home and access to those types of books."

The bookshelves, one built by a co-worker at The FEED Co. and others donated by supporters, are expected to be placed in each of the three schools this month, but Butler has not filled their shelves alone. She partnered with five local businesses, such as Good Dog and Merchants on Main, to help.

In each establishment, Butler left a blue plastic bin bearing her logo united with the business's logo via a plus sign, inviting customers to drop donated books into the bin. Some of the businesses, like North Shore art gallery and bookstore Winder Binder, offer additional incentives to get books into their bin, such as 30 percent off used children's books to be donated and 10 percent off anything else purchased that day.

"Every single person we've said something to about it has always bought a book to donate; sometimes several," says Winder Binder Manager Gina Micolo, referencing one customer who bought 10 books just to donate.

Though pairing with the book-centric program seemed like a natural fit for the store, Micolo believes other businesses should get involved because it is an investment in Chattanooga's future.

"I personally think that it's a really great thing that she's trying to do," Micolo says. "I'm the mother of a small child, and I know sometimes these schools just don't have the resources."

But it isn't just Chattanooga's future Butler hopes to invest in by providing these resources. It's also Nashville's. And Atlanta's.

With friends already eager to start their own branches of HomeBound in these two locations, Butler is hoping this month's launch will help develop a formula she can use to repeat the project throughout Chattanooga and in other cities, one day making HomeBound a nonprofit inspiring children to read nationwide.

"But that's really dreaming big," she laughs, "'cause I gotta keep the books coming."

A Shelf Full of Culture

While every book donated to HomeBound is invaluable, Butler is also hoping to add some culturally diverse books to students’ shelves. If you’re looking to donate a few books for the project, here are some of the highest-rated on her wishlist.

Kimchi and Calamari

by Rose Kent

Flora and Ulysses

by Kate DiCamillo

Too Many Tamales

by Gary Soto

Those Shoes

by Maribeth Boelts

A Chair for My Mother

by Vera B. Williams

Round is a Mooncake

by Roseanne Thong

How Kind!

by Mary Murphy

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

by Philip C. Stead

Out of the Blue

by Alison Jay

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Peña

The Kindness Quilt

by Nacy Elizabeth Wallace

How to Heal a Broken Wing

by Bob Graham

The Spiffiest Giant in Town

by Julia Donaldson

Each Kindness

by Jaqueline Woodson

Extra Yarn

by Mac Barnett

George

by Alex Gino

When You Reach Me

by Rebecca Stead

Honey, I Love

by Eloise Greenfield

Rosa Parks

by Kitson Jazynka

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

by Carole Boston Weatherford

As Fast As Words Could Fly

by Pamela M. Tuck

The Ugly Vegetables

by Grace Lin

Everybody Cooks Rice

by Norah Dooley

Separate is Never Equal

by Duncan Tonatiuh

This Day in June

by Gayle E. Pitman

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

by Katheryn Russell-Brown

We Belong Together

by Todd Brown

Bringing Asha Home

by Uma Krishnaswami