TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Make Way for Books is a local non-profit that works with families and educators throughout Arizona to introduce the joy of reading to children from birth to age 5—free of cost to program participants.
Make Way for Books CEO Jenny Volpe says helping infants, toddlers and young children build language skills prior to entering school can benefit their comprehension skills well into high school.
Now operating with a staff of 32 and hundreds of volunteers, Make Way for Books was founded by Dr. Mary Jan Bancroft in 1998 with the support of six volunteers after she saw a need for quality books and literacy resources in many preschools and childcare facilities serving low-income Tucson communities.
Since its early days, Make Way for Books has grown to provide bilingual early literacy programs, books, virtual learning and resources that impact more than 18,000 young children, families, and educators throughout Arizona each year.
"75% of children who participated in Make Way for Books programming during their Pre-K years went on to score at or above benchmarks on standardized reading assessments given in kindergarten, first, second, and third grades," according to a Make Way for Books sample study.
Getting books into the hands of young children has always been at the core of the organization's mission: In their 2019-20 program year, Make Way for Books provided more than 31,000 quality books to children's classrooms and homes, according to their 2020-21 annual report.
But it's not only physical books this non-profit is distributing. Make Way for Books, like many educational institutions during the pandemic, adapted a number of its in-person programs to virtual platforms.
Their Story School, a two-generation program where children and parents attend weekly group learning sessions, went virtual due to COVID-19. The new approach included a blend of core curriculum videos, live learning sessions with family literacy specialists and an opportunity to connect and reflect with the Make Way for Books community in a virtual family learning space.
Never did I ever think that I’d have a bookshelf in my house. But now we do and it’s great. We received all of these great books from Make Way for Books - 20 books to fill up our bookshelf at home. This program has shown me the importance of reading with our children, how it’s going to make a big impact for them.
The annual report quantifies that 91% for participating families felt more connected to other community members as a result of the online learning platform.
Families in the program free receive books and also have access to the Make Way for Books App, which delivers more than what a conventional bound book can offer.
"The Make Way for Books App has now been scaled to provide bilingual, early literacy and learning support, and quality books to thousands of families across Arizona, the United States, and even internationally," according to the 2020-21 annual report.
Having access to multi-lingual literary resources has proven beneficial according to the report's numbers.
"89% of families share more books with their children as a result of participating in our programs," states the report. "We provided culturally-responsive books in which children and families can see their own stories and learn about others as well as books in families’ home languages."
In 2022, Make Way for Books is offering a hybrid version of their programs that will retain virtual components and re-introduce in-person opportunities.
Additional programs provided by Make Way for Books are designed to support educators.
The Story Project provides professional development workshops and coaching to enable effective methods to incorporate literacy and language-rich interactions in their classrooms.
96% of education sites are more literacy-rich as a result of participating in our programming.
94% of educators feel more connected to their professional peers as a result of the program.
Make Way for Books is able to provide their programs for free to children, families and educators with the support of donors.
For more information about the various program areas at Make Way for Books:
Anne Simmons is the digital executive producer for KGUN 9. Anne got her start in television while still a student at the University of Arizona. Before joining KGUN, she managed multiple public access television stations in the Bay Area and has worked as a video producer in the non-profit sector. Share your story ideas and important issues with Anne by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.