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Oh, the places they’ll go with a book of their own

By Marissa Brooks
Correspondent

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    First Book-Charlotte’s seventh annual Spring Gala will include cocktails, dinner, dancing and silent and live auctions from 7-11 p.m. May 17 at Providence Country Club, 6001 Providence Country Club Drive in Charlotte. Black-tie is optional for the $100-per-person-event, and sponsorships and donor opportunities are available. To purchase tickets and for information: www.firstbookcharlotte.org.



Colleen Ludington and Myers Park resident Erin McClure did not know each other until their passion for bringing new books to at-risk children brought them together.

Erin McClure was a first-grade teacher in a Title I school in 2006 when she noticed her students were having trouble completing their nightly homework of 20 minutes of reading: The children didn’t have access to books at home.

McClure, 33, now a Title I elementary literacy specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, began to look for ways to get new books into students’ hands. She looked online for grants and came across First Book, a national nonprofit organization that has provided more than 100 million books to children since 1992.

Almost simultaneously, children’s book author Ludington, 43, contacted First Book as well, because she realized that “right in our own community, there are children entering elementary school that have never held a book, don’t even know what a book is,” she said.

As an author, Ludington knew the cost of a new children’s book could run from $13 to $17. “Those costs price (some) families out of the market,” said Ludington.

Ludington and McClure were surprised that a philanthropic city such as Charlotte did not yet have a First Book local advisory board. When First Book connected the two women, they quickly decided to form First Book-Charlotte in 2006.

First Book-Charlotte, part of the national organization, is a nonprofit volunteer-run organization that provides new books to children from low-income families. The mission is “to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books,” according to the First Book-Charlotte website www.firstbookcharlotte.org.

“Our focus is really on early readers, pre-K, day care, elementary school,” said Ludington. “We want to get these young kids into a relationship with books and reading.”

First Book-Charlotte has a board of directors with 16 members from varied professional backgrounds, including speech-language pathology, CMS literary coaching, branding and journalism. Board responsibilities include promoting awareness, raising funds, processing grants and being a liaison to current and potential recipient groups.

To date, First Book-Charlotte has given more than 250,000 new books to children in Mecklenburg and Union counties.

“First Book has made relationships with all major publishers and has a catalog of thousands and thousands of books,” said Ludington. Because of the unique relationship between First Book and publishers, instead of $20 buying one book, a donation of $20 provides books for eight children, said Ludington.

On May 17, First Book-Charlotte will hold its seventh annual Spring Gala, the only fundraiser for the year, said Wendi Reichard, 57, board member and gala chair.

The gala will be at Providence Country Club from 7-11 p.m. Larry Sprinkle from WCNC (Channel 36) will host and emcee, and First Book-Charlotte will show a video that incorporates Diane Sawyer’s piece on the national First Book organization. The evening will benefit grant recipients by giving at-risk children in their programs the opportunity to read and own their first new books.

“One-hundred percent of the proceeds (raised) go for the books,” said Ludington.

“First Book gives the children the opportunity to have access to books, to have a library of books, and helps (the children) become better readers,” said McClure. “There is nothing like a new book.”

Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at mbrookspt@earthlink.net.
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