Perspective | Book Harvest’s Dream Big book drive

“Everyone needs to become a good reader so that when they are an adult they will have a better life,” said 6-year-old Jade Vaughan-Bey during Book Harvest’s Dream Big book drive and community celebration held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Rhythms Live Music Hall in downtown Durham. 

Hearing such wisdom from a young child brought a huge smile to the face of Book Harvest Founder Ginger Young who exclaimed enthusiastically, “Jade gets it — that’s what this program is all about!”

“The benefits of a book-rich home environment begin accruing at birth. If we wait until a child starts school, we’ve waited too long,” she explained. “The consequences of raising a child in a bookless home are direct, severe, and lifelong. And there are a lot of kids in our midst who don’t own books.”

Fulfilling the dream

To combat the problem, and to fulfill her dream that “every child in our community should grow up in the presence of books, and plenty of them,” Young began collecting donated books in her garage. Soon she and a team of volunteers were supplying donated books to children and programs across Durham and Orange counties, and Book Harvest was born. As her dream grew, so did the need to collect more books.

“Dream Big began as an experiment to see if we could collect book donations on MLK Day 2012; in our first year, we had several new bookshelves throughout the community that needed books every week, and we were working hard to bring in the donations to keep those shelves of free books for kids stocked. That first event brought in 10,122 books — and we were off to the races!”

Members of the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc. have been faithful volunteers for Dream Big since the first year. Courtesy of Book Harvest

Inspired by the vision of Dr. King

“Today, Book Harvest’s annual Dream Big book drive and Community Celebration remains deeply connected to MLK Day, the day on which it has been held for nine years. We are inspired by Dr. King’s vision of a world in which every child has the chance to realize his or her full potential,” said Young. “This annual event is part book drive, part volunteer opportunity, part activity fair, and part fundraiser. But the main goal for the day is to bring the entire community together in celebration of the organization’s big dream: That all kids can grow up in a world in which reading, learning, and access to information are considered rights and not privileges so that all children can thrive.”

Harvesting all year long

“Book Harvest is here 365 days a year because books are an evergreen need. We come together once a year for this glorious celebration and hope people will remember us all year long. This is the one day when all of our communities are in the same space: families who are enrolled in Book Babies, families who harvest books from the laundromats and health centers where we stock shelves, families who’ve done book drives for us, local business leaders, elected officials, foundation staffs, and those who care about literacy. Everyone is out here,” said Young.

This year’s Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebrations was another amazing success. A total of 42,183 new and gently used books were collected during the event and throughout the month of January.

Dozens of volunteers help sort and pack books. Courtesy of Book Harvest

Building home libraries

“Imagine all of the home libraries those books will fill, the bedtime stories they will provide, the pride their new owners will feel when they put them on their bookshelves or bedside tables,” said Book Harvest Communications and Events Manager Daniele Berman. “But that’s not the only inspiring number I’m marveling at today.”

  • 1,113 people packed Rhythms Live Music Hall to volunteer and celebrate with us at Dream Big on MLK Day — the largest number ever.
  • 74 neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and organizations ran book drives and collected new and gently used books to donate. See the huge list here.
  • Sponsors donated $116,100 to make Dream Big and Book Harvest’s work happen year-round. Check out all the sponsors here — including the first-ever Dream Sponsor, Hendrick Subaru Southpoint. Special thanks to other top sponsors: Duke University Libraries, Scholastic, Wells Fargo, Mebane Foundation, Written Word Media, and United Way of the Greater Triangle.

Rock star volunteers support literacy

An event of this magnitude requires an army of volunteers. Young is forever grateful for the passion and commitment of the volunteers who continue to show up, many of them year after year. This year, the first 200 volunteer slots posted were filled within 43 minutes.

“In addition to being a great big celebration of literacy and books for all kids,” explained Berman. “Dream Big also represents a unique volunteer opportunity. Each year, the event provides a space where parents can volunteer with young children, coworkers can volunteer as a team, service groups can dedicate their efforts, and anyone who wants to is able to find a way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and engage in a meaningful way with our mission.”

Book Harvest’s legacy is empowerment

Jade and her mom, Taquoia Street, are two of those passionate volunteers. Young calls them “rockstars of promoting the cause.”

Their involvement with Book Harvest began when Jade was a newborn.

“A nurse came to my home and told me about Book Babies. She explained that once every six months, from birth until age 5, a Book Harvest representative would deliver age-appropriate books to our house and would share tips about what my daughter should be able to do at each stage of development. As a first-time mom, I didn’t really know, so it sounded wonderful,” said Street.

Street soon began attending Book Harvest events and got involved with collecting books for other children. Empowered by the effect the books have had on Jade, who was part of the first graduating class of Book Babies and is now an avid reader, Street has begun sponsoring a summer reading comprehension camp for neighborhood children.

“Who knew that getting free books for my child would develop into a passion of my own?” said Street. “It’s been an amazing experience. Now everywhere I go I’m screaming Book Harvest. I’ve adopted their mission of making sure that children of all economic levels have the same opportunities and access to books.”

Over 1,000 people showed up for Book Harvest’s annual Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration. This annual event is part book drive, part volunteer opportunity, part activity fair, and part fundraiser. Courtesy of Book Harvest

These volunteers share a passion for educating youth

She’s not the only volunteer who feels that way.

“I think every kid should grow up in a home with books,” said long-time volunteer Holly Brown who has worked with Book Harvest for the past nine years, including serving as vice-chair of the board, as well as on several committees. “Without books, children can’t reach their full potential. We don’t know who might be the next Marie Curie, or the next Thurgood Marshall, Ida B. Wells, or Albert Einstein.”

Other dedicated volunteers included members of the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc., a  service organization committed to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the cultural and economic survival of African-Americans and other persons of African ancestry. This group has been volunteering and providing financial support to Dream Big since year one.

The group’s philanthropic endeavors are divided into five facets, one of which is service to youth. This facet focuses on helping youth of African ancestry discover and reach their full potential, explained Bernadine Cobb, service to youth co-chair.

“We believe in the importance of educating our youth, and Dream Big falls right in line with that. This has been my first year to volunteer and I didn’t know what to expect, but when I walked in I thought, ‘Wow! I won’t miss another year,'” said Cobb.

(L-R) Beatriz Morales and her daughters, Valerie Aquirre, and Hannah Morales, volunteer as a family. Courtesy of Book Harvest

The event was equally exciting for first-timer Beatriz Morales who volunteered through her employer, Crescom Bank. She brought along her daughters, Hannah Morales and Valerie Aquirre, to help sort books because she thought Big Dream would be a great opportunity for the family to be involved in the community together. All agreed they would definitely be back. While sorting, teenaged Hannah was amazed to find a copy of her favorite book while growing up and was thrilled that she would be allowed to keep it, demonstrating the power of a book. 

Working towards the goal

“Too many kids lack access to books. Yet this is a problem we can fix. And Book Harvest is doing just that,” said Young. “We are fixing it with grit and intentionality, laying a pipeline of books that starts at birth, and will, when we realize our big dreams, continue all the way to age 10 and beyond. And we are accompanying parents on their journey, providing them with books, literacy support, and information on brain development so that they can continue to nourish their children’s vast potential. What a joy and a privilege this work is for us.”

Jeanna White is a writer for the Mebane Charitable Foundation in Mocksville. Ten years as a substitute teacher for students from preschool through high school has given her a unique perspective and passion for education. White graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.
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