Studies have shown that children from lower-income families don’t have access to as many books as those who are more affluent, something that can impact overall academic achievement, test scores, and more.
The RED Bookshelf was created to change that, making books available to children at 20 different locations throughout Albany, New York. They are in doctor’s offices with high Medicaid enrollments, community centers in public housing complexes, public service offices, and one elementary school. There’s a mobile bookshelf, too. Kids are allowed to take—and keep—as many books as they want.
After learning about the nonprofit’s mission, employees at Hopmeier Evans Gage Insurance in nearby Schenectady quickly jumped on board.
“My children have been very fortunate to have access to all the books they could ever want,” said Diane Carusone-McGinn, a commercial lines agent for the company. “It bothers me to think that even one child would not have the resources for something as fundamental as literacy.”
The RED (“Read Each Day“) Bookshelf was launched with one location in 2009, and has been growing steadily ever since. Last year, the nonprofit gave out nearly 40,000 books; this year it’s on track for about 50,000, said Mary Beth Fowler, who serves as co-executive director with founder Rachel Eveleth.
Most books are donated in gently used condition, so The RED Bookshelf has an intensive reconditioning program that makes them feel new again. “We want to bring each book back to a condition where a child would feel proud to own it,” Fowler said.
The RED Bookshelf also partners with various special-needs organizations to provide work experience and workforce development. “Volunteering alongside these individuals is inspiring,” Carusone-McGinn said. “Even those who we might view as needing support themselves were embracing the work of cleaning and mending books. It’s an opportunity to see community spirit come full circle.”
That spirit extends throughout Hopmeier Evans Gage; most of the staff have volunteered to recondition books, along with providing financial support and promoting the nonprofit on social media. Carusone-McGinn served as the lead event coordinator for a recent fundraising event as well. The agency supports many different causes in the area, and gives each employee one paid day off per year to pursue their own volunteering projects, according to owner and agent Dave Evans.
This commitment to service has earned a 2019 Safeco Insurance Make More Happen Award, which comes with a donation of up to $10,000 to The RED Bookshelf from Safeco on behalf of Hopmeier Evans Gage Insurance.
“Most of these kids really just wanted to take some books home, and thanks to this wonderful organization, they can.”
“The Hopmeier Evans Gage team has embraced us in every way,” Fowler said. “Their consistent support provides a solid foundation for our work—in addition to their volunteering and donations, they also carry our message throughout the community.”
And The RED Bookshelf message is definitely resonating, particularly among the kids of Albany.
“In one school, we discovered that a sudden increase in ‘sick’ children going to the nurse was actually caused by the bookshelf outside her office,” Carusone-McGinn said. “Most of these kids really just wanted to take some books home, and thanks to this wonderful organization, they can.”
Learn more about these Make More Happen award winners: