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Giving books away, group gets children reading

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Elementary school children often aren't shy in showing Demetria White their appreciation.

They run up and hug her, clutching the books she gave them as part of the Reading Tree program, which aims to put books in the hands of children whose families might not be able to afford them otherwise.

The program gives the children an opportunity to own their own books and learn to read. Maybe it's a picture book about Sponge Bob, Elmo, Dora or Clifford.

"They really get excited about these books," said White, the market manager for the Atlanta chapter of Reading Tree. "They're often just learning to read, and the gift of reading is something that's going to stick with them for a long time. And the sort of impact you can have with that, that's heart warming."

White's been doing this "heart warming" work for a little more than a year now. She was the family literacy specialist at an elementary school in Fayetteville, but jumped at the chance to work with Reading Tree and get books into the hands of children all over the state.

"We're going to where the children are," White said. "We're meeting them in their space and we're bringing the books to them. And then it's about ownership. We tell the children, 'You own these books. You don't have to take them back to the library and worry about returning them on time; you own them.' The kids that we're serving, they don't have books in their homes. We can give them two or, sometimes, three."

According to Reading Tree's statistics, 61 percent of lower-income homes in the United State do not have age-appropriate books to help children learn to read. According to White, getting books into the hands of young children is key to teaching them to read, and key to establishing the love of reading, which is so important to the children's future success.

"The earlier you start, the better," she said. "Kids who love to read, and read at home, do better on standardized tests."

Reading Tree works by collecting used books, often from families whose children have grown out of the learning-to-read books. There are bins saying "BOOKS For Charity" at retail locations, including 10 in Clayton County. The books are then collected and given away at schools, learning centers, summer camps and youth organizations.

Of the more than 21,000 donated books, which have been given away in Georgia in 2008, so far, almost 600 of them have been given to children in Clayton County, in just the last three months, White said.

The organization works with teachers, and often Reading Tree's book donations are advertised by word-of-mouth, from one hard-working elementary school teacher to another.

Those interested in arranging a donation can of children's books, can call White at (678) 850-7310.

Books can be donated at a number of locations, including the Food Depots in Riverdale, Rex and Forest Park; the Kroger in Riverdale on Ga. Highway 85; the Wal-Mart in Riverdale on Ga. Highway 85; the Phillips 66 gas station in Hampton, on Ga. Highway 19/41; and The Rock Baptist Church in Rex.