This life-or-death industry isn’t what you’re expecting. It’s children’s education.
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First Book

Last year, librarian Rajeeni Galloway met a student that others had already deemed a lost cause.

This student's record was riddled with suspensions, and her grades had suffered so much that she could no longer keep up. She was failing.

Galloway knew all too well what was at risk if the student didn’t get help. She decided to step in.


Luckily, Galloway specializes in helping struggling kids, not just with their current classes, but also to identify and fill in the gaps from their earlier education. "Those early skills are so integral," she says. They can also be much harder to teach kids later in life.

Through intense work and mentoring, the student started to improve. Before long, she began to excel.

"Now she’s on the honor roll," Galloway says. In fact, she’ll be graduating this year — a full year ahead of schedule.

Galloway works hard to get her kids the resources they need to succeed. Photo courtesy of Rajeeni Galloway, used with permission.

This student was lucky. Many others don’t have access to this kind of help and support.

And, unlike Galloway’s students, their futures can be a lot bleaker.

Without the proper help, students’ educational struggles continue. They start to fail classes. Their frustrations build and they begin to act out. They get into trouble both in and out of school.

Ultimately, many kids who struggle drop out — and it only gets worse from there. Once a student fails academically, it often leads to failures throughout the rest of their life.

High school dropouts are three and a half times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to get jailed than people who get their degree. Young women who drop out of high school are nine times more likely to be or become single mothers. Dropouts are also more likely to end up on some sort of government assistance.

Galloway leads a class in the library. Photo by Washington Teacher's Union.

How do we prevent high school dropouts? Teach kids to read.

Early literacy in particular is important in keeping kids engaged in school through graduation, Galloway says.

That’s because kids who struggle with reading will struggle with concepts in every other subject, and by the time they’ve reached high school, their academic struggles have become a compound problem: one that started with reading but has now branched out to include every subject they encounter.

But with more than half of U.S. public school students coming from low-income families, many kids don’t have access to the tools they need in order to learn how to read in the first place.

Vast "book deserts," or low-income communities without bookstores or libraries, can mean that kids have literally no way to get their hands on a book — much less one that’s the right reading level for them. In some families, parents are too busy working to keep food on the table to read to their kids at night. Low-income kids simply don’t have what they need to start reading early.

Galloway's students love to read. Photo courtesy of Rajeeni Galloway, used with permission.

That’s why Galloway’s district works with First Book to make sure that kids are supported throughout their literacy journey.

To combat book deserts, First Book provides brand new books and resources at low or no cost to educators serving kids in need, so that income is never the reason a child doesn't have access to books.

Galloway’s school also provides resources for parents to provide academic nurturing at home. "We have parent workshops where parents come in, especially in elementary school, and we show parents different strategies to support students at home," she says.

In addition, First Book reports significant progress in increasing kids' interest in reading by making sure they provide not just any books, but books that are diverse and relevant, that speak to kids of all ages, and that help kids see the positivity reading can bring into their lives. When children can read, they can tap into their potential — no matter their circumstances.

Increasing access to books could be the first step to solving a lot of our nation’s most pressing social problems.

Most kids who don’t learn to read come from low-income backgrounds, and, as Galloway’s teaching experience shows, those who never learn to read are at risk of remaining stuck in that cycle of poverty.

By increasing access to books and reading resources at a young age, organizations like First Book could be helping solve not just the literacy issue, but also issues like income inequality, incarceration, welfare dependency, and more, which are deeply connected to early literacy and education.

So next time you see a kid with a book, know that it’s not just for fun. Sometimes, it’s for survival.

Millions of children from low-income areas don’t have the tools needed to learn, placing them at a disadvantage that perpetuates poverty. First Book is a community that believes education is the way out of poverty for kids in need.

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When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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