United Way photo
United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona Health and Public Policy Director Christina Cutshaw and her son pose with Oyama Elementary School Library Assistant Raquel Islava and Principal Tammy Christopherson.
Parents picking up homework for their young children at 14 schools across Tucson were recently handed a dozen brand new books to help get through the summer slump.
The literary surprise was the most recent installment of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona’s My Summer Library Program.
United Way Worldwide is an international nonprofit organization that works with community organizations, government agencies, educational institutions and charitable individuals to provide aid for community members in need.
That work is accomplished through a variety of partnerships and programs, including the summer library launched in Tucson ten years ago.
“Kids tend to lose a lot of their reading ability over the summer when they don’t have anybody reading to them,” said LaVonne Douville, executive vice president of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. “This simple intervention can really help kids be ready when they start school in the fall.”
The library program works with more than a dozen schools. Books are primarily given to kindergarten and first grade students, as well as preschool and second grade.
Normally, United Way works with Scholastic Corporation to create school library days. Students can pick through a collection of titles, and volunteers from partner companies read to the children.
As schools moved from a long spring break to shutting down completely, United Way Director of Early Childhood Education Jessica Novak worked with Scholastic to make sure kids would still have books to read over the summer.
“Kids love the opportunity to practice their skills and show what they’ve learned, and it seemed like a shame to let My Summer Library not happen because of a virus,” Novak said. “Education hasn’t stopped. They say that the building might not be closed, but learning is still going on. What I sensed was an opportunity to just deliver books to children to keep their excitement up. It was more critical than ever that we could at least try.”
Novak knew she could get her hands on the books, and was relieved to find out schools would make use of them. Despite unique challenges with each school, Novak said they were able to make the deliveries generally within a week.
Books were given out to parents at Ajo, Roadrunner, Prince, Laguna, Walter Douglas, Sopori, Drexel, Los Ninos, Cavett, Lynn/Urquides, Maldoando Myers-Ganoung and Oyama elementary schools.
Despite the hard work that went into delivering books to students and their families, Novak said maintaining My Summer Library through the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most rewarding experiences she’s had “in a very long time.”
“It is work and it is complicated work,” she said. “You have to think about the logistics and the strategies, but to have so many people say ‘yes’ so quickly, it was just really amazing. An amazing commitment from the book vendor, and amazing commitment from the school partners...it is the best feeling, because there is nothing better in this world than a brand new book to call your own.”