by Abby Daly, Founder & Executive Director

As we move into 2017, I’ve been thinking about the definition of community.  Our growing success in getting books into the hands of underserved children across New Jersey is most definitely a direct result of the phenomenal support that we receive from the community.  It is just as important to highlight the impact that comes through the individuals and communities who request our books for the kids they serve – how they distribute the books, how they teach and reinforce the importance of reading and how they support our youth in discovering the pure joys of reading.  We’ve sent books to hundreds of amazing communities over the last decade, each with a unique story about the impact of our books on the children who receive them.

photo credits: Elite Barbershop, LLC.

One such community exists within barbershops.  Over the last year, we had the opportunity to support two separate literacy initiatives to make books available through barbershops in Monmouth and Essex Counties    Listening to the barbers speak about why they wanted to get involved in these initiatives, we couldn’t help but be inspired by their dedication to improving the lives of the children in the communities they serve.

The first initiative, “Fade to Books,” grew from the efforts of the Long Branch Free Public Library.   As Tonya Garcia, the Director Librarian, described it: “The … Library originally created the barbershop initiative to offer insight into the culture and importance of the barbershop in inner cities. I wanted to find a way to share [a] message of empowering youth by promoting literacy…. In collaboration with five local barbershops, we created the “Fade to Books” Barbershop Literacy Initiative.”

When the Library approached us about donating books, we immediately committed to provide 250 books for each barbershop, including Spanish and bi-lingual books.  As an organization dedicated to providing access to books to underserved kids, we loved the creativity of this distribution model and recognized the very real potential to reach young boys – who often fall behind in their literacy skills at an early age.

Tonya Garcia chats with 2 of the Long Branch barbers about having books in their shop.

After launching the program, Ms. Garcia described a tour of the barbershops: “we were absolutely thrilled to witness the TVs off and children asking to take the books home or sitting and reading while waiting for their haircuts. All of the shelves were prominently displayed in the front of the shops …. While the barbers are the true champions of this initiative, we absolutely would not have been able to implement the program without …      [Bridge of Books’] … help.”

Modeled after the Long Branch initiative, the second initiative, “Read Up to Shape Up,” was spearheaded by New Jersey’s Department of Child Protection and Permanency.  Bridge of Books provided 200 books to each of the 17 Essex County barbershops that signed up for the program.

img_4973At the launch, we listened to many of the barbers speak about why they wanted to participate in the program. For them, this program is another opportunity to improve the lives of the children they serve with the additional resource of books. To paraphrase one of the barbers, “we need to choose to DO better. We need to choose to BE better.  We need to step up as parents – as communities.”

Needless to say, we at Bridge of Books are all committed to supporting both barbershop initiatives throughout 2017 and beyond.  We are also exploring how we can support the expansion of these programs into additional communities throughout New Jersey where there is both an interest and a need.

To echo the analogy a barber used: “Little words become chapters.  Chapters become books.  Let them – the kids – be our books.”   We can’t wait to help.