The following is a conversation between Kyle Zimmer, President and CEO of First Book, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.
Denver: There were many hardships faced by the people of Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. But one of the more underappreciated ones was damage done to books and other educational materials in home and school libraries. This was not lost, however, on the nonprofit and social enterprise First Book. And we have with us now to tell us what they’re doing about it — one of our favorite guests here on The Business of Giving — Kyle Zimmer, their President and CEO.
Good evening, Kyle, and welcome back to The Business of Giving!
Kyle: Thank you so much, Denver, for having me on today.
Denver: Tell us about this new campaign that you’ve launched.
Kyle: As you just said, everybody has been certainly aware of just an unprecedented season of devastating hurricanes… and the wildfires out West… impacting millions and millions of people across the country. We are certainly aware of their immediate needs of water and food and medical needs, and electricity. But First Book has really stepped out to try to address the educational needs, and the need to restock schools, the need to address even immediate needs in shelters for displaced families.
We have a couple of different campaigns going. One is called The Essentials for Kids Fund. That is a campaign that we have launched at the national level with the American Federation of Teachers. It’s been wonderfully successful. We have raised funds and already taken truckloads of books into the Houston area. We are preparing similar efforts in the Florida area, and the plans are on for the books for Puerto Rico as well.
Denver: And what’s the name of this campaign that you’ve launched to try to address this?
Kyle: We have a couple of different campaigns going. One is called the Essentials for Kids Fund. That is a campaign that we have launched at the national level with the American Federation of Teachers. It’s been wonderfully successful. We have raised funds and already taken truckloads of books into the Houston area. We are preparing similar efforts in the Florida area, and the plans are on for the books for Puerto Rico as well.
Denver: And you’ve had some other great funders, including The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, right?
Kyle: Exactly right. The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation… they have stepped up, being the heroes that we always know they are. They have those wonderful deep local roots in Houston and in that region, and so they’ve really supported us both financially, as well as helping us really get feet on the ground with the American Federation of Teachers, of course, so that we know the books are getting right where they’re needed immediately.
Denver: And what’s unique about this campaign, also Kyle, is that I understand 100% of the funds raised will go directly for that purpose?
Kyle: Yes. It’s correct. The campaign has multiple layers. There’s always an immediate need when families are pulled out of their homes and placed in temporary shelters, and we know that that’s a time of real stress for the adults. It’s a really frightening time, frankly, for the kids. And it is wonderful to be able to reassert some normalcy and give some comfort in those settings. So, we’ve been really focused on those settings. But in addition to that, we’ve been simultaneously working with the Houston School District, with school districts across Florida, and soon we will be moving into Puerto Rico to help as well.
One of the things you forget is that the timing of these storms was particularly awful because it was just as the school year was getting ready to launch. So, you had kids and families, some of whom were struggling already economically. And they’d saved their money and bought all their school supplies, and all of that was washed away in a single storm. And then the teachers had spent money, almost always out of their own pocket. The average teacher spends about $600 a year out of his or her own pocket. And they had bought school supplies, and they had prepared their classrooms. It’s everything from books, of course, but art supplies, school supplies, backpacks; it’s everything you need to get the year off on the right start.
We do have a campaign goal. We want to raise half a million dollars. We already have about $273,000 and I am pleased to report we have a million books from 13 different publishers.
Denver: This is an extraordinary initiative, Kyle. Does The Essential for Kids Fund have a campaign goal?
Kyle: We do have a campaign goal. We want to raise half a million dollars. We already have about $273,000, and I am pleased to report we have 1 million books from 13 different publishers. So, the publishing industry has been extraordinarily generous, as they always are, to try to really stand up in the lives of kids and really elevate what can go on in these schools that are rebuilding.
One other thing I wanted to make sure that I mention, Denver, is that when we say “essentials for kids,” we really mean essentials. In addition to the school resources, we are also providing a huge array of things like hygiene kits, and clothing… like socks, and underwear and some of the things that you might not think about at first blush, but that are critical to a child feeling prepared… Feeling like they have the self-esteem and those basic fundamental resources that allow them to walk through those school doors ready to learn.
Denver: Well, this is such a real and tangible thing where people can really make a difference. How can they get involved?
Kyle: I want everyone, all of your wonderful listeners, to go on to our site at firstbook.org. And on that homepage, you’ll see a link to these wonderful efforts. I also want to say that our friends over at The Dolly Parton Imagination Library effort — their campaign. They have stepped in, and we are also running campaigns with them. So, you can go to our homepage, or if you are a fan of Dolly, for heaven’s sakes, go on to her site. And it all goes to the children and their great heroic teachers and educators who are trying, trying to rebuild lives.
Denver: Thanks, Kyle, for what you and First Book are doing and for sharing this with us tonight.
Kyle: Thank you. Thank you, Denver.
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