The Early Literacy Academy at Indiana University Northwest announced recently that it has received a $30,000 grant to provide books to 14 lending libraries throughout the city of Gary, Ind. These libraries, located at schools, child-care centers and Head Start programs in the community, offer children and their parents a convenient opportunity to borrow and enjoy age-appropriate books that will help establish young readers’ literacy and form an important basis for future educational success.
Funding for this year’s grant was provided by Capital One, and the grant was allocated to the ELA through Reading is Fundamental, Inc., a national advocacy group for childhood literacy. This is the second consecutive year that the ELA has received $30,000 in funds through Reading is Fundamental; last year, the grant was provided by Colgate-Palmolive.
The money will be used to purchase books for a series of lending libraries throughout the city of Gary. That lending system was established last year as part of the ELA’s first $30,000 Reading is Fundamental grant; books purchased with those funds are still being distributed.
Heather Harder, Ph.D., executive director of the ELA, said the academy receives significant discounts on its book purchases, anywhere from 25 percent to 75 percent off. Therefore, $30,000 in funding can result in more than $100,000 in books, she said.
The purpose behind the lending-library program, Harder said, is to give children ready access to appropriate reading materials they might not otherwise be able to take home. She said that while the community’s public library system is quite good, many parents don’t actually take the time to visit those facilities and obtain a library card.
“This is like stepping down the library process a notch to make it a little easier and more convenient for children and their parents to gain access to books,” said Deborah Culver, the ELA’s education coordinator.
By bringing the lending program to schools and child-care facilities, the ELA is able to support a point-of-contact presence where children and parents can easily borrow and return books. Officials at lending-library sites must request to host the program, and they must appoint a site coordinator to oversee the smooth operation of the lending library, Harder said.
In addition to its lending program, which also features a lending site on campus where local teachers can borrow books for use in their classes, the ELA offers a variety of workshops, community literacy events and student assessments aimed at promoting early childhood literacy. Founded in 2002, the ELA relies almost exclusively on grants and other donations to fulfill its mission.
Though Harder said the ELA would apply for the Reading is Fundamental grant again next year, she pointed out that Reading is Fundamental tends to view its funding as seed money rather than a permanent support fund. There is a good chance the ELA will have to find other donors to help support the lending-library program in future years, she said.
“We know that we’re a purpose-driven organization that has a very important impact on the community,” Harder said. “We know that people with vision will continue to help fund us.”
The ELA is administered by the IU Northwest School of Education. Dean Stan Wigle, Ph.D., said the academy’s role in the community is an essential one.
“The function of the Early Literacy Academy is to better prepare early childhood caregivers by giving them the books and skills necessary to work with young children in the area of early literacy,” Wigle said. “Early literacy is the single most important factor when it comes to a child’s later success in school.”