Book Harvest’s Dream Big Book Drive

By Jeanna Baxter White

“Everyone needs to become a good reader so that when they are an adult they will have a better life,” said six-year-old Jade Vaughan-Bey during Book Harvest’s Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration held on MLK Day at Rhythms Live Music Hall in downtown Durham.  

Hearing such wisdom from a young child brought a huge smile to the face of Book Harvest Founder Ginger Young who exclaimed enthusiastically, “Jade gets it – that’s what this program is all about!” 

Jade Vaughan-Bey reads to her mother, Taquoia Street.

Getting Books to Every Preschooler

“The benefits of a book-rich home environment begin accruing at birth. If we wait until a child starts school, we’ve waited too long,” she explained. “The consequences of raising a child in a bookless home are direct, severe, and lifelong. And there are a lot of kids in our midst who don’t own books.”

Fulfilling the Dream

To combat the problem, and to fulfill her dream that “every child in our community should grow up in the presence of books, and plenty of them,” Young began collecting donated books in her garage. Soon she and a team of volunteers were supplying donated books to children and programs across Durham and Orange counties and Book Harvest was born.  As her dream grew, so did the need to collect more books. 

“Dream Big began as an experiment to see if we could collect book donations on MLK Day 2012; in our first year, we had several new bookshelves throughout the community that needed books every week, and we were working hard to bring in the donations to keep those shelves of free books for kids stocked. That first event brought in 10,122 books – and we were off to the races!”

Inspired by the Vision of Dr. King

“Today, Book Harvest’s annual Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration remains deeply connected to MLK Day, the day on which it has been held for nine years; we are inspired by Dr. King’s vision of a world in which every child has the chance to realize his or her full potential. This annual event is part book drive, part volunteer opportunity, part activity fair, and part fundraiser. But the main goal for the day is to bring the entire community together in celebration of the organization’s big dream: that all kids can grow up in a world in which reading, learning, and access to information are considered rights and not privileges so that all children can thrive.

Over 1,000 people showed up for Book Harvest’s annual Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebration. This annual event is part book drive, part volunteer opportunity, part activity fair, and part fundraiser.

Harvesting All Year Long

“Book Harvest is here 365 days a year because books are an evergreen need. We come together once a year for this glorious celebration and hope people will remember us all year long. This is the one day when all of our communities are in the same space: families who are enrolled in Book Babies, families who harvest books from the laundromats and health centers where we stock shelves, families who’ve done book drives for us, local business leaders, elected officials, foundation staffs, and those who care about literacy. Everyone is out here.”

Building Home Libraries

This year’s Dream Big Book Drive and Community Celebrations was another amazing success. A total of 42,183 new and gently used books were collected during the event and throughout the month of January! 

“Imagine ALL of the home libraries those books will fill, the bedtime stories they will provide, the pride their new owners will feel when they put them on their bookshelves or bedside tables!” said Book Harvest Communications and Events Manager Daniele Berman. “But that’s not the only inspiring number I’m marveling at today:”

  • 1,113 people packed Rhythms Live Music Hall to volunteer and celebrate with us at Dream Big on MLK Day! (The largest number ever)
  • 74  neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and organizations ran book drives and collected new and gently used books to donate! (See the huge list here!)
  • Sponsors donated $116,100 to make Dream Big and Book Harvest‘s work happen year-round! (Check out all our sponsors here — including our first-ever Dream Sponsor, Hendrick Subaru Southpoint!  Special thanks to our other top sponsors: Duke University Libraries, Scholastic, Wells Fargo, Mebane Foundation, Written Word Media, and United Way of the Greater Triangle.) 

Rock Star Volunteers Support Literacy

An event of this magnitude requires an army of volunteers. Young is forever grateful for the passion and commitment of the volunteers who continue to show up, many of them year after year. This year, the first 200 volunteer slots posted were filled within 43 minutes! 

“In addition to being a great big celebration of literacy and books for all kids,” explains Berman, “Dream Big also represents a unique volunteer opportunity. Each year, the event provides a space where parents can volunteer with young children, coworkers can volunteer as a team, service groups can dedicate their efforts, and anyone who wants to is able to find a way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and engage in a meaningful way with our mission.”

Book Harvest’s Legacy is Empowerment

Jade and her mom, Taquoia Street, are two of those passionate volunteers. Young calls them “rockstars of promoting the cause.” 

Their involvement with Book Harvest began when Jade was a newborn. “A nurse came to my home and told me about Book Babies. She explained that once every six months, from birth until age five, a Book Harvest representative would deliver age-appropriate books to our house and would share tips about what my daughter should be able to do at each stage of development. As a first-time mom, I didn’t really know, so it sounded wonderful.” 

Street soon began attending Book Harvest events and got involved with collecting books for other children. Empowered by the effect the books have had on Jade, who was part of the first graduating class of Book Babies and is now an avid reader,  Street has begun sponsoring a summer reading comprehension camp for neighborhood children. “Who knew that getting free books for my child would develop into a passion of my own!”  

“It’s been an amazing experience. Now everywhere I go I’m screaming Book Harvest,” she said with a smile. “I’ve adopted their mission of making sure that children of all economic levels have the same opportunities and access to books.”  

These Volunteers Share a Passion for Educating Youth

She’s not the only volunteer who feels that way. “I think every kid should grow up in a home with books,” said long-time volunteer Holly Brown who has worked with Book Harvest for the past nine years, including serving as vice-chair of the board, as well as on several committees. “Without books, children can’t reach their full potential. We don’t know who might be the next Marie Curie, or the next Thurgood Marshall, Ida B. Wells, or Albert Einstein.” 

Members of the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc. have been faithful volunteers for Dream Big since the first year.

Other dedicated volunteers included members of the Triangle Park Chapter of The Links, Inc., a  service organization committed to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the cultural and economic survival of African-Americans and other persons of African ancestry; this group has been volunteering and providing financial support to Dream Big since year one. 

Dozens of volunteers help sort and pack books. at Book Harvest 2020

Dozens of volunteers help sort and pack books. 

The group’s philanthropic endeavors are divided into five facets, one of which is Service to Youth. This facet focuses on helping youth of African ancestry discover and reach their full potential, explained  Bernadine Cobb, Service to Youth co-chair. “We believe in the importance of educating our youth, and Dream Big falls right in line with that. This has been my first year to volunteer and I didn’t know what to expect, but when I walked in I thought ‘Wow! I won’t miss another year!’ ”

The event was equally exciting for first-timer Beatriz Morales who volunteered through her employer, Crescom Bank. She brought along her daughters, Hannah Morales and Valerie Aquirre, to help sort books because she thought Big Dream would be a great opportunity for the family to be involved in the community together.

All agreed they would definitely be back. While sorting, teenaged Hannah was amazed to find a copy of her favorite book while growing up and was thrilled that she would be allowed to keep it, demonstrating the power of a book.  

Working Towards the Goal

“Too many kids lack access to books. Yet this is a problem we can fix. And Book Harvest is doing just that,” said Young. “We are fixing it with grit and intentionality, laying a pipeline of books that starts at birth and will, when we realize our big dreams, continue all the way to age 10 and beyond. And we are accompanying parents on their journey, providing them with books, literacy support, and information on brain development so that they can continue to nourish their children’s vast potential. What a joy and a privilege this work is for us!”

Check Out the Fun at the 2020 Dream Big Book Drive!

You Can Help

Book Harvest provides an abundance of books and ongoing literacy support to families and their children from birth and serves as a model for communities committed to ensuring that children are lifelong readers and learners. Their vision is of a world in which reading, learning, and access to information are considered rights, not privileges so that all children thrive. Since its founding in 2011, Book Harvest has provided more than 1.2 million books to children in North Carolina. Learn more by visiting their website.



Book Harvest’s Book Babies: Unleashing parent leadership at birth could lead to a lifetime of benefits

Note:  This article, by Mebane Rash, was originally published 11/22/2017 on Education NC (EdNC -Book Harvest’s Book Babies: Unleashing parent leadership at birth could lead to a lifetime of benefits ) and is republished below with permission.

“Not all kids go to sleep at night with a bedtime story,” says Ginger Young, the founder and executive director of Book Harvest in Durham, when Larry Colbourne of the Mebane Foundation and I visited her earlier this year. “And yet literacy begins with language.”

Young is imagining a new normal for newborns in Durham — and across our state and nation. It starts, she tells us, by unleashing parent leadership from birth. Both Young and Colbourne agree there is a “colossal failure” in our society between birth and grade three when so much of the brain develops, and both are investing in “coherent community strategies” to support these kids during this span of their lives.

Book Harvest started in Young’s garage back in 2011 where she collected donated books, premised on her belief in “the power of books to transform children’s lives.”

It begins with raising awareness so here is the pop quiz Young gives us:

Please fill in the two columns:

What percent of a child’s brain develops in the first three years of life?

Summer learning loss accounts for what percent of the income-based achievement gap?

What percent of a child’s life between the ages of 0 and 18 is spent in school?

What percent of our population are our children? What percent of our future are our children?

The answer to that last question is 100 percent. But income-based achievement gaps hold back too many of our children.

What if there was a way, wondered Young, to get any Medicaid-eligible baby kindergarten ready for $5,000? Book Harvest has several programs to promote literacy, but our visit focused on Book Babies.

Here is the basic idea:

Over five years, 120 new books + at least 12 home visits + a robust array of additional supports = a million words per year if a parent reads to their child for 15 minutes every day = kindergarten readiness

Book Babies is premised on this narrative: 1) you, the parents, are the experts; 2) we are here to support you on your journey; 3) your baby is capable of greatness; and 4) together we can make sure your child is kindergarten ready.

On the left, Meytal Barak, the team leader for Book Babies, talks to Manju Rajendran, a mother in the program who has a 17-month-old, Azadi. “Our kiddo,” Rajendran says, “she just got into it.” On the right, Young embraces the young mother.

Young tells us, “Authentic relationships. Trust. Showing up. Deep respect. It matters.”

Colbourne and I are both invited to go on a home visit. I visited this mom, Karen, her 2½-year-old Kayla and her 4-year-old brother Matthew. The mother does not have transportation so she is home bound during the day. Demonstrating the innate resourcefulness of parents, she covered an old pack-n-play to create a reading zone for Kayla. Barak’s excitement about this “micro-moment of brilliance” is palpable, confirming her belief that parents are the very best teachers for their children.

The Book Harvest staff is tenacious when it comes to making sure the home visits happen. They have a whole toolbox of ways to get them scheduled: text, phone, an alternate phone, email, driving by the home, and as a last resort the family’s pediatrician. They make the home visits happen on the family’s schedule not theirs, which often means they happen at night or on the weekends. This video unpacks the elements of each home visit:

Evaluations of the Book Babies program look promising. As excerpted from a report by Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy:

“…Book Babies children show advanced knowledge of emergent literacy skills such as print knowledge and phonological awareness. This finding demonstrates that the Book Babies program is successfully targeting the key early literacy skills…. Exposure to these skills is critical for kindergarten readiness, later reading ability, and future academic success. … The findings of this evaluation are both encouraging and exciting, as they indicate that the Book Babies intervention has unique potential to positively impact the literacy skills of Durham’s youngest children.”

The Center for Child and Family Policy is conducting a randomized control trial on cohorts of 180+ babies in 2017 and 2018 over five years to evaluate the Book Babies interventions and, if warranted, establish the evidence-base necessary to scale the program across North Carolina and beyond.

This Thanksgiving, engage a child in your life using the goals of Book Babies:

as you read, name objects, actions, and emotions;

let the child hold the book and turn the pages;

sit close to the child;

use an animated voice and expressions to engage and interest the child;

ask simple questions;

make everyday connections;

AND instead of screen time, have a conversation and play games with the child.

Perhaps you will enjoy it as much as the Book Babies parents:

“Each time, you teach me something different that motivates me more.”

“This program is something very beautiful.”

“I am very thankful, this has helped me a lot with my children.”

Young reminds us, “the stories we read to our children become their stories — touchstones that help children shape their identity and their sense of their place in a complicated world.”