How to make a classroom smile for a year

It’s a philanthropic buzz like no other – empowering an entire classroom of low-income children to buy their own books for a full school year. That’s exactly what the Bodenhamer family did. Mom, Nina, shares their inspiring story.

Giving has always been important to our family.

We’re fortunate: Our children are healthy, my husband and I have good jobs, our home is stable, we have so many opportunities before us.

In part, that’s why helping families from low-income backgrounds has become a particular passion of ours. We can make a difference. We want to make a difference. And that’s why we are fortunate to have discovered Book Trust.

Desperate need

Book Trust was created more than ten years ago to promote literacy skills and a love of reading among disadvantaged children – namely by enabling them to choose and buy their own books.

The need for such help has never been more pronounced. In low-income neighborhoods, there is an average of only one book per 300 households. This number is staggering: One book for every 300 homes!

Many young children arrive at kindergarten having already heard 30 million less words than their middle-class peers. Educational performance is abysmal. High school drop-out rates in some areas are heartbreaking.

Worthy cause

But Book Trust knows that life doesn’t have to be like that. If young students from low-income homes have the opportunity to discover the joy of reading, they will pick up the vital literacy skills necessary for school success.

happy girl E

They’ll be more likely to thrive at school, and in later life. They will have a fighting chance.

And that’s a cause my family and I firmly believe in.

Power of choice

So how does Book Trust work? The program operates through a partnership with the Scholastic Reading Club. Every month of the school year, a bundle of flyers arrives. The children spend time studying each page, discussing their favorites.

Book pile 2

Then they choose – and it is entirely their choice – their books for that month. (Depending on which titles they select, each child can usually afford two to three books per month.)

And the best part? These children get to keep and take home every single book they select.

Special visit

For us, one of the great things about Book Trust is that a charitable gift is directly tied to impact. Supporting the program costs $10 per child per school month. That’s a small ask with a large return. So as a family, we decided to sponsor an entire classroom of children.

Boy behind book E

Ever since we made the pledge, it’s given our entire family a tangible touch point—to appreciate our own books, to talk about the opportunities and choices we enjoy.

And last week, the experience became so very real as we visited the second grade classroom we sponsor – the whole class! – on the morning they received their monthly books.

Inspirational time

It was a fabulous experience. Seeing the excitement and joy on all those kids’ faces was magical. And knowing that we – together as a family –played a role in making this wonderful occasion happen was indescribable.

Lena Bodenhammer E
Lena Bodenhammer (13) talks books and stories with a young friend.

Of course, it’s always fulfilling to give to valuable causes.

But the opportunity to actually be there as our contribution brought together a talented teacher, happy (and delightfully unwieldy) children, and piles of books was beyond moving. Each of us was bowled over by the entire experience.

Home libraries

And here’s the really good news: Not only were these children super-excited and thrilled by their books, they’re learning so much from them as well.

Our teacher explained how some of his students, who previously hadn’t shown much interest in standard school texts, had been transformed into avid readers. And we were able to see it firsthand!

Redhead girl E

These stories are also backed up by the hard statistics. Nationally, the percentage of students reading at grade level in Book Trust classrooms increases from 41% at the beginning of the year to 70% at the end of the year.

Positive lesson

Selfishly, the best part of the school visit was what it gave to my own daughters. As our family sat together reading with these young students, my two girls experienced the sheer joy of giving.

As parents, we talk often of charitable giving and the value of supporting those in need. We talk about our capacity to be change-makers.

Elizabeth bodenhammer E
Elizabeth Bodenhammer (15) shares in some stories.

But in that classroom, my girls got to experience firsthand the real power of change. Plus, they had an absolute blast.

They’ve have already asked, “When can we visit again? Can we be part of their book fair, too?” They haven’t quit talking about their morning, in that classroom, in a school they’re now familiar with. Giving has never been so real for them.

Huge impact

It is hard to believe that the cost of this life-changing venture–and it has been life-changing, both for the students and ourselves–is ten dollars per child per month.

With a class of 25 children, for the ten months of the school year, that means we give $2,500 over the course of a year.

For that money, an entire classroom of spirited, bright children get to choose their own books to own (some of them for the first time) every month.

Nina Bodenhammer E
Book Trust supporter, Nina Bodenhammer

And, for us, that means they have the chance to fall in love with reading. Something I often take for granted in my own home: snuggling up for family story-time, reading aloud as a family, re-reading books we love, watching our very own home library grow.

Most importantly, they gain the reading skills they absolutely need to succeed in school.

Money well spent

All of us who support meaningful community causes have our own views on organizations that are most deserving. That’s in the nature of charitable giving.

So of course, I don’t pretend to make any grand claims for our chosen cause. I can only speak for myself and my family, and our own experience.

But believe me when I say: Our gift to Book Trust was money well spent. Our gift gave us a true lesson in the power of giving.

Find out more about Book Trust and receive updates about our work.

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