Serving our most Vulnerable Children

A new year has begun, yet the impact of the Hurricane Harvey still looms. The storm not only devastated homes, libraries and schools, but also our licensed childcare system of which there are 1,400 providers in the Greater Houston area serving more than 100,000 children. Based on assessments conducted by Collaborative for Children, child care providers acrossGreater Houston suffered significant damage and interrupted services for many families with infants and toddlers. Licensed child care centers are ineligible for FEMA resources, so getting them back up and running can be an incredible challenge.

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In the wake of the hurricane, Save the Children, a global nonprofit that helps ensure children are healthy, educated, and protected, acted quickly to provide the city's shelters with the necessary equipment and services to keep children safe. Among other things, Save the Children emergency response teams delivered essential supplies to families including cribs, strollers, changing tables, baby shampoo, diapers and baby-safe portable tubs; set up child-friendly spaces in shelters where kids played and learned while parents managed their family's emergency needs; and provided specially trained staff to help children cope with the emotional trauma as a result of the disaster.

To address long-term recovery, Save the Children is partnering with Collaborative for Children to restore child-care centers, early education programs and children's emotional well-being. Financial and human resources are being invested to rebuild facilities and replace lost furniture, books, toys and educational materials, as well as providing training to early child care teachers and staff and leading social and emotional recovery programs for children and caregivers.

"We do whatever it takes for children - every day and in times of crisis - and helping those children and families most affected by Hurricane Harvey is no different," said Mark Shriver, Save the Children's Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs and Advocacy. "We're honored to partner with My Home Library to ensure children across Houston are able to rebuild their home libraries following the unprecedented storm."

We are excited to join Save the Children and Collaborative for Children to ensure that 1,500 children served across 130 child care centers have their very own home library of books they can enjoy with their families at home and prepare for a bright future. We are grateful for Save the Children's financial commitment and for their partnership in serving our most vulnerable children and their families.

Honoring Reading Mentors

On May 8, the Houston Independent School District (HISD), in partnership with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, hosted a Read Houston Read Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at the Children's Museum of Houston. Read Houston Read is a volunteer-based reading intervention program for first and second graders in which members of the community contribute at least 30 minutes each week to read to or with a child either online or in person. This year, nearly 700 volunteers participated in the Read Houston Read Program. We are grateful for the time they spent not only improving the reading levels of children, but also serving as their mentors.
During the event, Lance Menster, HISD Officer of Elementary Curriculum and Development, Michael Lunceford and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District Board of Education Trustees, and Neil Bush, Co-Chairman of the Foundation, addressed volunteers to express their gratitude for their hard work and commitment to reversing the cycle of low literacy in Houston. Two very special volunteers, Cathy Geis and Cynthia Bryant, were named Read Houston Read Volunteers of the Year for going above and beyond in their volunteerism. In a short video feature before accepting her award, online volunteer Bryant met her student for the first time. Tears welled up as she approached the podium to speak. "When you're with a student for a year, it's like adopting a child. I had never met her before so being able to see her for the first time really made me emotional," Bryant said. 

In-person volunteer Geis, who along with Bryant said she plans to volunteer again next year, said her goal is to impart a love of reading to the children. "It's a wonderful opportunity. I like to read, and I love to help children develop that same enthusiasm and begin to realize how important reading is - that if they can read, that's the key to life and having hours and hours of enjoyment." We encourage you to view the brief, but powerful videos on Cathy Geis and Cynthia Bryant

 From left: Volunteer mentor stands with Carley Colton, HISD Literacy Specialist, and Neil Bush.

From left: Volunteer mentor stands with Carley Colton, HISD Literacy Specialist, and Neil Bush.

Local Organization Celebrates 1,000,000th Book Given to Children

 From left: Jaime Grissom, Sandra Alhorn, Amy Barnes, and Trent Hale pose with Justin, the recipient of the one millionth book.

From left: Jaime Grissom, Sandra Alhorn, Amy Barnes, and Trent Hale pose with Justin, the recipient of the one millionth book.

Books Between Kids, a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 with a mission to build home libraries for children in need one summer at a time, hit a big milestone last month when it distributed its one-millionth book. The celebration took place at Piney Point Elementary School in HISD. Every May for the past five years, the organization has been distributing new and gently used books to children attending elementary schools and early childhood centers across Houston. We congratulate Books Between Kids and thank them for all that they do to help more children become book owners.


Approximately 800 disadvantaged elementary children across Houston will have an incredible opportunity to participate in a two-week free program called Camp Adventure! We have once again teamed up with Phillips 66, the Houston Area Urban League, the Houston Symphony and the Children’s Museum of Houston to host the camps at Bastian Elementary School and Atherton Elementary School in HISD. Corporate partners PricewaterhouseCoopers, Target, Schlumberger, JP Morgan Chase, and Phillips 66 are co-designing the two-week curriculum, providing volunteers to serve as instructors and mentors, and offering other resources to ensure that children have a fun and engaging experience this summer.

The two, two-week long camps will include an array of interactive activities in reading, financial literacy, STEM and ASTEAM curriculum. The Houston Symphony is on board to provide Community Embedded Musicians (CEMs) to support the camps and will enhance learning in our youngest campers with a focus on rhythm perception and auditory working memory. Each camp day will begin with a General Assembly where various community organizations, including the Houston Grand Opera, Wade Smith Foundation’s Reading with the Pros, Ronald McDonald House and Crime Stoppers, will provide enriching group activities and presentations to all the campers.  Throughout the two weeks, campers will earn Camp Adventure! Bucks and will have an opportunity to close out the two weeks with a visit to the “Target® Pop-Up Store.” Graciously supported by Target and our other corporate partners, the “Target® Pop-Up Store” will give campers an exceptional opportunity to purchase books and toys with “money” they earned, thus reinforcing financial literacy instruction. We are certain that Camp Adventure! 2017 will be an exciting and unique experience for all campers and one that combines robust instruction and relevant curriculum with the joys of summer camp.


Children in Houston's North Side Benefit During Spring Break

 Legacy Community Health's Maria Cantu works with children at one of the many creation stations.

Legacy Community Health's Maria Cantu works with children at one of the many creation stations.

On March 18th, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation along with partners, the Children's Museum of HoustonLegacy Community Health, Harris Country Public LibraryHouston Public Library, and iWRITE hosted a Family Literacy Festival at Houston Housing Authority Kelly Village. With the help of our Young Professionals Group, these partners provided literacy based activities as part of Read Aloud Month. Over 80 residents joined us to take part in read alouds, a comic book creation station, Lego robotics demonstrations, a bookmark creation station, literacy related games and more! Children who participated in the activities were given books to take home so that they could grow their own libraries. In partnership with the Houston Housing Authority, the Foundation also dedicated a library of 500 books to the facility's community center to serve all residents. Thank you to our partners and volunteers for making this event a success!


 Wade Smith engages children during the My Home Library kick-off event. Photo courtesy of Michelle Watson, CatchLight Group.

Wade Smith engages children during the My Home Library kick-off event. Photo courtesy of Michelle Watson, CatchLight Group.

On January 17 we kicked off the "My Home Library" pilot initiative at Browning Elementary School. My Home Library is an initiative aimed at providing more children access to books in the home. It uses a web-application developed by Credera which enables children to create a wish list of books and matches donors with a child in need. The initiative is generously sponsored by Phillips 66 and Marathon Oil Corporation and is supported by the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee through its Touchdown Houston Read On! program.

The reading rally kicking off the My Home Library was filled with celebrities and key leaders in our community, including Neil and Maria Bush, co-chairs of the Barbara Bush Houston Foundation; Wade Smith, former Houston Texans player and founder of the Wade Smith Foundation; Lee Tillman, Marathon Oil CEO; Anna Eastman, HISD Board of Education trustee; Herb Taylor, former Kansas City Chiefs player and owner of Ray's Real BBQ Pit; Chantelle Anderson, former WNBA player, San Antonio Stars; Sarah Marie Blanton, former Miss Texas; Caleb Ramsey, Professional baseball player, Washington Nationals; Albert Johnson III, former Miami Dolphin; and DjSupastar, 93.7 The Beat.

The program focused on the importance of reading and engaged children through a question and answer session with the celebrities through Reading with the Pros, a program of the Wade Smith Foundation. Following the reading rally, celebrities and community leaders read to children in their classrooms.

"This was a very special morning for our students," said Julia Elizondo, principal of Browning Elementary School. "The families and staff are deeply grateful to the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Marathon Oil Corporation for being selected as the pilot school for the My Home Library Initiative. To become strong readers, our children need books in their homes so that they can read independently or with an adult."

Our 2017 goal is to provide at least 5,100 low-income children with their very own home library. Thanks to generous individual donors and significant contributions from Phillips 66 and Marathon Oil Corporation, we are making strides to reach our goal. We encourage you to join us by sponsoring a child in need by visiting

 Neil and Maria Bush and Dr. Finck stand alongside celebrities who volunteered to participate in the My Home Library kick-off event. 

Neil and Maria Bush and Dr. Finck stand alongside celebrities who volunteered to participate in the My Home Library kick-off event. 

Children Earn Bicycles by Meeting Reading Goals

  Neff ECC Principal Leal, Rotary Club Governor Eric Liu and wife Sandra, First Book of Greater Houston Director Sheila Long Armstrong, former NFL player Charles Davis, Dr. Julie Baker Finck and Ladies for Literacy Guild Member Patti Gillies line up to help distribute bicycles.

Neff ECC Principal Leal, Rotary Club Governor Eric Liu and wife Sandra, First Book of Greater Houston Director Sheila Long Armstrong, former NFL player Charles Davis, Dr. Julie Baker Finck and Ladies for Literacy Guild Member Patti Gillies line up to help distribute bicycles.

  Neff ECC student rides off with a new bike he earned by meeting reading goals.

Neff ECC student rides off with a new bike he earned by meeting reading goals.

Nearly 8,000 children across the Greater Houston area received brand new bicycles and helmets last December as a reward for meeting their reading goals, thanks to CYLCE: Changing Young Children's Lives through Education. "Our vision at CYCLE is that every student in the Greater Houston area will read at or above grade-level by the end of the 3rd grade, putting them on the path to success and empowering them to reach their full potential in school and life," said Rebecca Roberts, Executive Director of CYCLE. "Providing children an opportunity to earn a bicycle for achieving their set goals is a great motivator and strategy for helping them learn that hard work equals reward."
More than 230 children who earned bicycles and helmets were first-graders at Neff Early Childhood Center in Houston ISD. Neff ECC Principal Dr. Gerardo Leal remarked, "It is exciting to see so many of our children attain their reading goals and be rewarded with new bicycles and helmets from CYCLE. I am so proud of the children's accomplishments and grateful to the families and our teachers for making reading a top priority."
In addition to receiving new bicycles and helmets this school year, every child at Neff ECC received brand new books through a partnership with First Book of Greater Houston. We think books and bicycles should be in every child's home.

Family Volunteering

Volunteering as a family can be a great way to model citizenship, teach the principles of giving, and demonstrate how service can make a difference to the next generation. On September 24 the Houston Public Library launched the Groomed for Literacy event, with volunteers from several organizations participating, including employees of CITGO.  One of these CITGO employees is Sandra Everington. She and her family took part in assembling Little Free Libraries that will be placed in barbershops across high-need neighborhoods.

CITGO has always believed in community service as part of their corporate identity, and this is something Sandra decided to share with her entire family at the Groomed for Literacy launch event. Literacy, in particular, holds special importance in the Everington home. Sandra’s daughter, Janelle, is in second grade and has inherited a love of reading from her mother.

Groomed For Literacy

We are excited to partner with the Houston Public Library (HPL), Put It In a Book Foundation, Little Free Libraries and Friends of the Houston Public Library on a new and innovative program called Groomed for Literacy. Groomed for Literacy aims to address the literacy gap for underserved youth, with specific emphasis on young boys of color. The mission of this program is to support barbers in serving as reading mentors and to distribute books to children in need.

Research has shown that only one book is available for every 300 children in low-income areas, as opposed to 13 books, on average, in homes of middle-and-high income children. Unfortunately, books are a luxury that many families cannot afford, yet they are essential to a child's development. Without access to age-appropriate reading materials, children are already behind when they start the school year. In order to break the cycle of low literacy within families and reduce the performance gap, which constrains the education system and fuels the achievement gap in later years, we must work together to provide Houston's children with adequate literacy resources. 

Groomed for Literacy will increase the books available through the placement of Little Free Libraries stocked with books in barber shops. In addition to supplying the communities in need with books, the program will increase public awareness of the importance of access to books and literacy. Little Free Libraries will contain My Link library card applications and information on the nearest HPL library location and hours of operation.  Each partnering barber shop will be assigned a local HPL library. The HPL library location assigned to the partnering barber shop will be responsible for “refreshing” the books within the Little Free Library, as well as picking up and processing the library card applications. The books will be replenished by the Houston Public Library, Friends of the Houston Public Library and book donations received in support of the program. Youth will be asked to sign in/log in each time they read a book in the barber shop or take a book home. Incentives (i.e., discount/free haircuts, new books for home library, etc.) will be provided by participating barbers and HPL based on books read.

The program launch took place on September 24 with youth and their parents who participated in the Houston Public Library’s Summer Camp STREAM program at Scenic Woods Regional Library. Volunteers from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation’s Young Professionals Group, CITGO, the Harris County Department of Education, the Junior League of Houston, and others assembled the little free libraries.  In addition to creating libraries, volunteers offered free haircuts for the participating youth.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Watson of CatchLight Group.

Signature Initiative Revealed

The Ladies for Literacy Guild of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation revealed a signature initiative during the Power of Literacy Luncheon. Owlbotron and his sidekick, Northtale, will hit the streets next summer in their Curiosity Cruiser. Children in low-income neighborhoods will have amazing learning experiences through this one-of-a-kind mobile library. The Curiosity Cruiser will be a high-tech, mobile library that will gain instant street credibility and become known for its innovative and engaging educational programs. In addition, the Curiosity Cruiser will help children build their own home libraries and provide opportunities for them to participate in reading clubs and other creative activities. They, too, will discover the power literacy has to transform them into the extraordinary and help them reach their dreams. We are confident that Owlbotron and Northtale with their Curiosity Cruiser will be a big hit and make a big impact on low-income children.

  From left: Ben Armenta of Credera, Brenda Love of Love Advertising, and Edward Melton of Harris County Public Library at the inaugural Ladies for Literacy Guild Power of Literacy Luncheon.

From left: Ben Armenta of Credera, Brenda Love of Love Advertising, and Edward Melton of Harris County Public Library at the inaugural Ladies for Literacy Guild Power of Literacy Luncheon.

We’d like to recognize guild members Trish Morille and Stephanie Tsuru for their vision for the mobile library. Additionally, we wish to thank the strategic planning consultants at Credera, as well as Brenda Love and her creative team at Love Advertising, who delivered hundreds of pro-bono work to design the cruiser and the characters. We are pleased to partner with Harris County Public Library on this initiative. The generous donors at the Power of Literacy Luncheon made the initiative financially possible, along with a signature sponsor, Phillips 66 and the Tsuru family.

Through the Curiosity Cruiser, we hope to combat low-literacy and decrease statistics like the 60 percent of children that are ill-prepared to learn how to read in kindergarten and the 60 percent that fail to meet minimum academic standards in 3rd grade reading. We must bridge the gap in high-quality, educational resources for economically disadvantaged children and their families in high-need communities. It became clear to the Ladies for Literacy Guild that the key way to achieve these goals was to take programs and services to children and families where they live and where they play, so that access was no longer an issue. Additionally, the Ladies for Literacy Guild recognized how critical it is to create literacy-rich home environments and engage parents in effective reading strategies. We are extraordinarily grateful to the Ladies for Literacy Guild for their leadership and innovation towards piloting such a revolutionary initiative. 

Take Just 30 Minutes a Week to Change a Life

With 30 minutes a week, online or in person, you can help change a child’s life. We are proud to support Read Houston Read, Houston Independent School District’s innovative, volunteer-based intervention program that helps first graders improve their reading skills. Now in its third year, Read Houston Read takes place in 50 HISD elementary schools and includes in-person and web-based mentoring options.

Through the Read Houston Read program, volunteers share the magic of books by reading with a child, engaging in fun activities to build vocabulary and comprehension levels, and listening to a child read and share a book with his or her mentor. In addition, mentors and students build an important relationship that helps boost students' self-esteem and reading skills. By working with the same student(s) for an entire school year, volunteers have the potential to change the direction of their lives, simply by sharing the gift of reading.

During the 2015-2016 school year, 700 volunteers served over 1,000 students through Read Houston Read, and we are looking to expand the number of volunteers participating and students served during the upcoming schoolyear.  The program will begin in October. Sign up and serve as a Read Houston Read volunteer by logging on to, creating an account, and finding a school near your home or office.

HYPE Freedom School

This summer, more than 100 children in south Houston are attending HYPE Freedom School, a program designed by the Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools' model aimed at combating "summer slide" and accelerating academic achievement. Engaging literacy-based activities are centered on five essential components: high-quality academic enrichment, parent and family involvement, civic engagement and social action, inter-generational leadership development, and nutrition, health and mental health.

"At HYPE, scholars are able to gain an appreciation and love for learning so they can return to school prepared and motivated to always do their best," says Brandi Brown, executive director for HYPE Freedom School, Inc. According to the Children's Defense Fund National Assessment, children who participated in the 2015 HYPE program improved their reading level by an average of seven months during the six-week period. We are proud to provide financial support to HYPE Freedom School, Inc., to ensure that children have access to high-quality summer learning programs that are centered on strong reading skill-building. Learn more about HYPE Freedom School, Inc.