My mom is known as the "First Lady of Literacy" and over the years has been a champion for many literacy-related causes across the country. The principal focus of her national foundation has been family literacy and, as such, this Family Literacy Month is a celebration of Barbara Bush and thousands of others nationwide dedicated to promoting family literacy.
Barbara Bush has always understood that learning starts and is reinforced at home. We didn’t discuss literacy in our home, but mom used our home environment to practice great literacy development for her children. She frequently read to us, spoke to us using words that developed early vocabulary, and encouraged us to speak in clear sentences and to write thank-you notes. She has always understood that breaking the cycle of low literacy means families need to implement literacy practices at home. For that reason, her national foundation’s philanthropic work has focused on enhancing family learning programs in all fifty states.
Maria and I formed the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation three years ago. We were intent on leveraging Mom’s interest in literacy in her backyard by bringing the community together to solve our city’s literacy crisis and to raise awareness of the critical importance of developing age-appropriate literacy skills.
Everyone can have a role in addressing the literacy crisis. For example, research shows that kids raised in poverty suffer from both a book gap and a word gap. Houstonians are pitching in to help organizations gather and distribute books so that low-income kids can build home libraries. Too many kids go through early childhood ill-prepared for learning in school. Many volunteers are helping new low-income moms understand the importance of early brain development and are supporting child care centers with volunteer time. Too many kids struggle to pass the third grade reading test, so volunteers are being invited into classrooms to intervene as reading mentors through HISD’s Read Houston Read program. I could go on and on. A plethora of organizations are serving all ages, from small children to adults. However, they are in need of volunteers and donations. The fact is that an individual volunteering time can make a big difference in helping people realize their full potential.
Houston is the perfect city to address the literacy crisis, and I am proud of the role the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation is playing as a catalyst for change. The coalitions that are working area- wide and in specific neighborhoods are engaging thousands of change-makers in raising awareness and implementing strategies that will raise literacy rates across the board.
We will consider our work done when every mother of a newborn baby understands the importance of raising a brain-stimulated, literate child and has strategies to do so. When every family embraces a culture of reading and communication and when every elementary school implements systems to establish a culture of early literacy success, our work will be done. However, we need an army of volunteers to intervene to add capacity to vital services being provided by hundreds of organizations helping develop literacy skills for people across the entire age spectrum. I know this great community will rise to the challenge.