For people who follow this publication and others like it that are built, in large part, on the written word, it is probably hard to imagine a life without reading. Ask any avid reader and you’ll probably hear stories of their interest being ignited by an exciting elementary teacher or a dedicated parent or something as simple as picking up the right book at the right age. For most, it’s a passion that brings them a lifetime of joy.
And yet the sad truth is that a shocking number of people grow up not only without the joy of reading, but lacking even the ability to read well enough to do the most rudimentary tasks associated with the activity, such as comprehending written instructions for putting together a piece of furniture or perusing the classified ads in the daily newspaper. According to www.dosomething.org, one in four children is growing up functionally illiterate and 61% of low-income families own not a single children’s book.
Laura Gilbert, a stay-at-home mom in Livonia, Michigan, was shocked and saddened by this information, so when Laura’s beloved Aunt, a lifelong English teacher and librarian, passed away, she took the opportunity to honor her memory while simultaneously helping to meet a need in Morgan County, Ohio, where Gilbert’s aunt taught, by having a book drive. She hoped to provide each elementary student in the county with a book. “The outpouring of support was beyond my wildest dreams,” Gilbert said. Her goal was to collect 1065 books, but so many were donated that she was able to donate extra books to classroom teachers also.
This event was so successful, it led Gilbert; her husband Josh, a product manager at Ford Motors originally from Springboro, Ohio, and their friend Leah Neal, a solutions architect at Workiva in Des Moines, Iowa, to start the Foreshadow Foundation, which, has the stated goal of making sure every child has at least one book.
Simple access to books is one of the biggest obstacles—and perhaps the biggest opportunity—in equalizing children’s literacy.
“The causes of poor literacy among low-income children are complex,” Gilbert said, “but simple access to books is one of the biggest obstacles—and perhaps the biggest opportunity—in equalizing children’s literacy.” So, the friends, who met at Marietta College in 2007, set about finding those rural school districts that are underserved—or not served at all—by local reading programs and get a book into each child’s hands. And not just a book, but a book of each child’s choosing. They do this by having events that resemble a good, old-fashioned book fair, except the books are free. The students “shop” through the selection, picking out the book they want rather than just being handed a random title. Gilbert explained this is beneficial in two ways. “We believe this approach helps encourage children’s literacy while still respecting the dignity of the child.”
Another fair took place in 2019, in which over 400 students at Bright Elementary in Hillsboro, Ohio, near Cincinnati, left with their own books. Plans for this year include working with the New Lexington School District to provide almost 800 students in two elementary schools with books.
Ultimately, Gilbert said, while they want to equip others with the ability to share books, she and her partners “…want to create a platform for them to use but have no intention of keeping it to ourselves.” She is more interested in students getting their hands on books than in being proprietary with their model. “We understand the only way to scale this is to empower others as well,” Gilbert said.
For those interested in supporting this remarkable cause, Gilbert says the most effective choice is monetary donations. As a registered Scholastic Literacy Partner, Foreshadow is able to buy books at cost. This allows them to essentially buy almost four books for the price of one. Other ways to support the organization include liking their Facebook page and following their Instagram account. Or, for more information on fundraisers and promotions, such as their March Madness fundraiser and Mug Club program, go to www.4shadow.org. Finally, you may feel free to email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.