EPIC strives to help vocabulary development in Pueblo, CO with help from First Book

The following is a guest blog post written by our partner Reach Out and Read of Greater New York

There is no denying, life as we knew it prior to March of this year has been a challenge in so many ways. We have all had to maneuver our way through and attempt to keep our heads up high and make the best of it.  Kudos to all of our medical providers, teachers, parents, caregivers, childcare providers and the elderly for their efforts to make this time not only tolerable but positive. One thing that has not changed is our children’s need to learn, stay healthy, explore, and thrive.

Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC) began in Colorado with the mission to help children with kindergarten readiness after a conversation with an elementary school principal: “Our biggest problem stems from the fact that on the first day of kindergarten, one child comes in with a vocabulary of 1,500 words and another child comes with a vocabulary of 3,500 words.” Vocabulary development is one of the five essential components of effective reading instruction. Placing books in the hands of children, along with education on key strategies for helping our children enter school with a 3,000 word vocabulary, is an important component of EPIC. While EPIC provides opportunities for families in many areas, providing books for children before they enter school is key. Purchasing books for ages 0 – 6 to help support the programs is one of our largest expenditures. 

EPIC has had the WONDERFUL opportunity to partner with First Book for three book distribution experiences. The first was in July of 2015 when we received over 400,000 books for needy children, some of which were shipped out from Pueblo to sites throughout the country, while nearly 90,000 books stayed right here in Pueblo. The only guidelines were that we had to provide a warehouse that would be able to house all of those books, forklifts, and volunteers for a full week to assist with the circulation. 

Our second windfall was as an awardee of the OMG Book Grant in April 2019, in which we were offered $50,000 in book credits! Our local pre-schools, the Pueblo Library District, and many other non-profit agencies were able to take advantage of these book credits.

This past spring, First Book offered a truckload of books at the price of $5,000. EPIC jumped at the opportunity to purchase two truckloads with the help of local funders. These beautiful books continue to benefit our children affected by Covid-19 this past year.

– Paula Dunn, EPIC Chair

As the Pueblo EPIC Outreach Coordinator, I have the privilege of facilitating community presentations. Currently there are 33 different presentations, which provide educational information to parents, businesses, community partners, local governmental agencies as well as educators throughout our community. These presentations are given at no cost to the attendees. Books are provided to the attendees at the presentations, with a majority of these books coming from our First Book partnership. The books are given to provide support to children and families in our community, as we believe that parents are the first and most important teacher for their children. Throughout the past five years we have given 50 yearly presentations, with books given to 400 children and 1,600 adults each year.

The books we purchased from First Book are made possible because of an abundance of community support from our local partners. Each book is labeled with a sticker stating a specific community partner that helped us purchase it. We have reached a great number of community partnerships that not only help us purchase the books, but also help us label and distribute the books.

Recently, we were able to provide books to a local child care center, Kinderkirk, that has been a first responder providing licensed child care services from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been developing reading stations for the children they serve. The school-age children in the center helped develop and set up the reading stations in the program, which was a great learning experience.

In addition, our First Book partnership gave us the support we needed to provide books to the YWCA Women’s Domestic Violence Shelter, which serves a large number of women and children throughout the year. With the ongoing pandemic, the shelter has faced numerous challenges serving their clients and are very appreciative of our support and the books we were able to give because of our partnership with First Book. The YWCA serves children from prenatal through teenaged children, so having access to books that focus on a variety of ages is extremely helpful for their program. These children use these books as an outlet for the situation they are going through, as well as for educational learning and reading for the joy of reading, as many children are readers’ and having a book of their own mean so much to them, because often times they come to the shelter with only the clothes on their backs, the books are so appreciated by them.

The number of children we have reached in Pueblo through various nonprofit agencies because of First Book is in the hundreds of thousands! The local agencies that have benefitted include: Child Advocacy Center, A Caring Pregnancy Center, Cooperative Care, School District #60, School District #70 – Summer Lunch Program, Catholic Charities Distributions, Care and Share Food Distributions, Pueblo County Department of Public Health, Department of Social Services, Pueblo Library Books in the Park Program, School of Nursing Trunk or Treat, Pueblo Violence Prevention Initiative, and Pueblo Poverty Foundation.

– Cindy Bernal, EPIC Community Outreach Coordinator

image of an educator reading to two kids from a picture book. There is text that says, 'Matching Challenge: Be a Champion for Educators! Your gift by May 31 can go twice as far to provide new, high-quality books and other resources educators need to help students unlock their full potential.' There is a red button in the bottom, right corner that says, 'I'll give now'.