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First Book-Greater Kingsport works to put books in the hands of children

Serina Marshall • May 10, 2019 at 10:31 AM

When it comes to materials used for education, books are always at the forefront and a local organization is finding ways to make sure students have the access and opportunity to get their hands on the books they need to succeed.

First Book-Greater Kingsport is working to make this a reality.

Joy Branham serves on board of First Book, and also as President of Delta Kappa Gamma in the Iota Kingsport Chapter and as the Legislative Chair of the Kingsport Retired Teachers Association. When it comes to students and education, Joy is right there in the midst of making things happen for both.

The Sullivan County Imagination Library sends books directly to the home of a child until they are 5 years old. After they pass that age, they are no longer eligible for the much-anticipated books – and that is where First Book-Greater Kingsport picks up.

First Book started in Kingsport in 2004 and has continued to grow. They are always finding ways to get and use books. Money is raised by the organization for grants that are sent to recipient groups in Title 1 schools and organizations dealing with lower income groups. More than $38,000 was given away just last year to aid in the grants and supply books for children.

Part of the funding for First Book-Greater Kingsport comes from United Way and others including large entities such as the Eastman Foundation and Speedway Children’s Charities, in addition to organizations like Lion’s Club and Kiwanis, just to name a few. The rest of the money comes from caring local citizens who put their hands in their pockets and donate money to keep the work of First Book going. Because of these sponsors and providers, elementary children are able to receive books that belong to them personally.

The biggest single fundraiser is the book fair held each March. A joint project of Friends of the Library and First Book-Greater Kingsport, the fair requires work all year long.

“It is ongoing – every week, all year” Joy explains. “We collect the books, we price the books, we start over.”

Joy is a former librarian who was also one of the first recipients of the books. She received two free books for every child in her school. “The only thing is, you have to be Title 1 to be eligible according to the National Board,” Joy says.

The goal of First Book isn’t to fight illiteracy, but to end it. The organization has distributed over 65 million books nationwide since its founding.

“Valuing books and the ownership of books makes all the difference,” according to Joy. “All children need a chance to read, to develop literacy skills, and to make connections with the world through books.”

This year for the first time, two schools in Hawkins County were provided books, in addition to schools in Kingsport, Sullivan County and Scott County, Virginia.

First Book-Greater Kingsport is one of the most effective First Book teams in the United States and is one of 11 teams on the Honor Roll nationally. They go above and beyond to make sure any child who wants or needs a book is provided with one. Though they are an all-volunteer organization, their focus is on exactly what they are there to do. First Book works mostly from donations to keep the organization going. There are always plenty of opportunities to volunteer with First Book if you are interested in doing so.

When a school or other organization that works with lower income students is approved and granted funds for books, the coordinator can go online to First Book Marketplace which offers brand new books for children at a tremendous discount. The books purchased there are specifically for kids to take home. The inventory and stock of books is ready and available to those needing the materials.

“When I retired, a friend asked me to be on the board to give back. Since I was one of the first recipients of the books, I decided to (do that). I have now been on the board for six years.” First Book meets every month, but continuously works to make books a reality for children in need.

Remember the magic of your first book? Supporting First Book-Greater Kingsport can bring that same joy to others. If you are looking to be a part of First Book by your donation, you may send a check to: First Book-Greater Kingsport, P.O Box 7488, Kingsport, TN 37664-7488. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, email [email protected]