AP NEWS

PoWer! Book Bags promotes children’s literacy

March 2, 2019

A repurposed coat rack, or “bag tree,” in the corner of Lakeshore Food Club in Ludington holds a multitude of colorful, hand-made book bags. Next to it stands a little shelf full of children’s books. Kids who come into the food club with their families are invited to choose a book bag and pick two books for them to bring home and own forever.

Each time the kids come back, they can choose more books to bring home and grow their personal collection.

“This is really important, because when children pick a book of their choice, they’re much more likely to read it,” said Kara Gregory, director and founder of PoWeR! Book Bags, a nonprofit that promotes children’s literacy and language skills.

“The more language a child has, the better they’ll do in life — not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. It’s not just right now — it’s forever. The more words a child experiences, the quicker they acquire literacy skills and the easier it is to communicate with others,” Gregory said. “What we want to do is increase language and literacy for everyone because when we increase it for the kids, we create a better future for the community, not just the children.”

Since the organization began in 2016, PoWeR! Book Bags has given children more than 60,000 books and 17,000 bags. It started in Sutton’s Bay, and now operates in Mason, Oceana, Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Wexford counties.

“Bag tree” book distribution sites exist at many family assistance locations, such as food pantries, including Salvation Army, COVE, HELP Ministries and more.

This provides books to children who might not own any, said Gregory, and the books are theirs to keep.

“There’s a great correlation between the number of books (children) own and how well they’re going to do in life,” Gregory said. “Our goal is for children to have as many books at home as possible, especially children who are living in circumstances that are less than perfect.”

Most of the books the organization gives out are purchased new or gently used, although the group does accept donated books in good condition. Inside each book bag is a new box of crayons, a blank “create your own book” booklet and a finger puppet, which helps with the fun.

The capital letters in the name PoWeR stand for Play, Write and Read.

On Friday morning, about a dozen volunteers gathered at the Lakeshore Resource Network, and in one hour they filled approximately 250 book bags with crayons, booklets, finger puppets and more as part of PoWeR! Book Bags’ monthly build bee.

Community member Tami Ledger said it was her first time volunteering for PoWeR! Book Bags.

“It’s nice to give back, and it’s great to give back to the kids,” Ledger said.

There are many ways people can help the organization, such as sewing book bags — which many residents at the Ludington Senior Center do — preparing books, filling bags and delivering them to sites, Gregory said.

“We’re always looking for people to be a part of what we do because the need is out there. We know how to meet the need, but we need help to do it,” she added.

PoWeR! Book Bags holds a work bee for volunteers to fill bags on the first Friday of each month, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, typically at Lakeshore Resource Network, 920 E. Tinkham Ave., Ludington.

To donate money to the organization, visit www.powerbookbags.com.

To donate new or gently used books, drop them off at HELP Ministries, 910 E. Tinkham Ave.

Everything donated from Mason and Oceana counties will go to local children in those counties, Gregory said.