In this polarized age, one thing that we can all agree on is the importance of reading, especially the importance of reading to children. Research shows the benefits of reading to children, especially in terms of school readiness. But one problem is often overlooked–the need, even in this electronic age, for physical books. And these books are not always easy to find.
For Chris Matthews, founder of Literacy in the HOOD (Helping Out Our Disenfranchised) and fan, together with her 8-year-old son, of the works of author Mo Willems, much of the difficulty comes down to a person’s zip code. “A zip code,” she says, “speaks volumes about resources and education.” Matthews witnessed this first-hand in her years with AmeriCorps and decided that if the children couldn’t get to the books, she would bring the books to them.
Creating what she refers to as a “different lane,” Matthews goes to where the books are needed, setting up tables at various events and providing other pop-up opportunities to get books to children. Her favorite part of the work, she says, is “seeing the smiles on the children’s faces” when they realize that not only do they get a free book, but they get to choose that free book.
Matthews considers WKYC’s Margaret Bernstein, founder of the #WeReadHere campaign, to be her mentor. Bernstein is also an author, having written Donuts with Dad and All in a Dad’s Day, to promote the importance of fathers reading to their children, a goal that resonated with both Matthews and her son, who initiated the Boys Do Read! part of Literacy in the Hood with Bernstein’s help.
In an interview last year with Phenomenal Woman Magazine, Matthews explained that her “objective is to help every family create a culture in which reading, writing, thinking, and speaking are prioritized in the home.”
Chris Matthews wants us all to recognize the importance of reading to young children for 15-20 minutes a day. And she backs that desire up with action. If you don’t have books, she promises she’ll get you some: “I won’t deliver them to your door, but I’ll meet you at the corner of your street.”
If you are in need of books to read to your child or have new or gently used books to donate, please see literacyinthehood.com. Matthews envisions buying a larger vehicle to transport even more books to even more children–financial contributions toward that goal and toward the purchase of books are welcome.