Miriam Stannard Epstein, Director,
Books to Dreams, Inc. Guest Panelist at
LITERACY NOW: Building an Educated World
United Nations Headquarters, New York
January 31, 2003
Would you all please join me by repeating my words and actions? Everyone! I'm special, I'm precious ...l'm amazing! These are the words of encouragement that are spoken at the end of every Books to Dreams program. I asked you to say them as a way of thanking you for your belief in literacy for all children. Here are some unique aspects of the Books to Dreams program:
Thank you to Phyllis Hickey and to this committee for inviting me here to speak. Thank you also to the Delta Kappa Gamma Educational Foundation for providing Books to Dreams with our largest book grant. Thank you to my husband, Howard Epstein, for making all this possible.
In 1993, carrying a bag of books from DKG Theta Chapter members, I entered Holy Family Home and Shelter in Willimantic, Connecticut for the first time. There I met Sister Peter Bernard and we read with and gave books to the children. It changed my life. It became my life. That was ten years ago and, so, the program began.
All children should have their own books to read. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all children had their own books to read? Books to Dreams was born from that idea.
Good news spreads quickly and word of Books to Dreams was carried to many places. People began calling and writing to offer their services. We have never asked for anything. That is the creed of the program. All has been freely given and we always have what we need.
Now, hundreds of generous people, businesses, legislators, publishers, schools, churches and organizations contribute thousands of books, hours and funding ... and it keeps growing! Books to Dreams monthly newsletters, careful record keeping, and multitudes of thank-yous keep the donations flowing into the program.
Books to Dreams has been able to give nearly 150,000 donated books to children in need. We've provided nearly 500 literacy programs in 13 homeless shelters to thousands of children and parents, established or added to 25 permanent children's libraries, given thousands of books to 10 soup kitchens, to outreach families and to over 30 organizations that assist these children.
This is the first book I ever owned. It was given to me by my father's mother in 1948, when I was 6. It is inscribed with my name, just as every book given to every child in the program is inscribed. I grew up in a tiny, rented house that was heated by coal. On cold winter nights, my father's old wool coat served as my blanket. There were six children, no car, no television and few toys.
Yet, I was one of the lucky ones because my father, Joseph Stannard, always had time to read to me! My dad and this dear book of Mother Goose with its covers `loved' away, became the inspiration for Books to Dreams.
The 12th century Hebrew poet Moses ibn Ezra said, "A book is the most delightful companion ... An inanimate thing, yet it talks ... There is in the world no friend more faithful and attentive, no teacher more proficient ... It will join you in solitude, accompany you in exile, serve as a candle in the dark, and entertain you in your loneliness."
These deserving and grateful children are reading these books! Their worlds are expanding and their possibilities are increasing with each book they read. I see them reading in homeless shelters, their neighborhoods, their homes, soup kitchens, after-school programs, early learning, day care and correctional centers, everywhere that the Books to Dreams programs go.
At a recent program, a child was overheard saying to her mother, "Now I have my own books!" Anthony, an 11 year old living at a shelter who had been living in four other shelters before then, had emptied out his few belongings from his suitcase, turned it on its side, placed his books neatly inside and announced proudly that now he had his own library.
Starting with a dozen books, an idea and Sister Peter Bernard, Books to Dreams, Inc. has become a successful literacy program across the state of Connecticut involving hundreds of inspired volunteers, thousands of donated books and dollars, reaching thousands of children. If you need more information please refer to the handouts that are available.
Malcolm X's oldest daughter, Attallah Shabaz, was interviewed about her father when she was an adult. The reporter interrupted himself saying, "... but you wouldn't remember, you were only a child." Her reply, "Never underestimate the recollection of a child."
Thank you for listening,
Books to Dreams, Inc. is a 501(3)c Non-profit Organization founded in 1996