The Race to 80: Organization seeks to bolster home libraries

Published 12:01 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

SALISBURY — When it comes to literacy, 80 is the magic number.

Last year, Rowan County Literacy Council Executive Director Laurel Harry was researching literacy data and came across a study that showed that having many books in the home, specifically 80 or more, was a game changer.

According to research published in the journal Social Science Research, home library size substantially affects educational attainment and that home libraries enhance the academic performance of children from families at all educational and occupation levels.

“When I read the findings, I really sat up and took notice,” said Harry. “I decided to write a grant seeking funding to allow students to create their own home libraries filled with books of their own choosing.”

Several stars had to align to bring the project to fruition. First, Harry approached Alissa Redmond, owner of South Main Book Company, and Jennifer Hubbard, president of Friends of Rowan Public Library, to see
if they would help with getting books into the hands of students.

“They both were 100 percent on board,” Harry said.

Next was writing a grant to obtain funding. Harry knew Dollar General’s philanthropic foundation focused on adult and youth literacy programs.

“Dollar General is a huge multibillion-dollar company, but most people don’t know that the company’s founder was functionally illiterate,” Harry said. “He only had a third-grade education.”

Because of this family history, the company has always strongly supported community literacy initiatives nationwide.

A grant for $3,500 was approved, and Harry said, “I felt like the dog that caught the school bus. Now I had to find a way to get the materials into the students’ hands.”

Luckily, the Literacy Council already partnered with Communities in Schools-Rowan to tutor kindergarten through 12th grade in numerous Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

The Literacy Council coordinated with CIS Executive Director James Davis and CIS site support specialists Fran Lescoe and Bonnie Harrell to coordinate the rollout at Isenberg Elementary and Overton Elementary.

That led to 25 students at each location receiving a bookcase, a $50 gift certificate to South Main Book Company and a 50 percent off coupon for the Friends of Rowan Public Library’s Second Saturday Bookshop at West End Plaza.

Redmond said she is proud to be part of the project.

“South Main Book Company is so proud to be a part of this project,” Redmond. “Any chance we get to help kids find new worlds to explore through literature, we want to partner to further those opportunities. We are grateful to the Rowan County Literacy Council for all they do to grow strong readers in our community.”

According to Hubbard, to promote the activity of families reading together, Friends of Rowan Public Library supplied coupons, one per family, for 50 percent off the total purchase from its Second Saturday Bookshop at West End Plaza, where children’s books cost anywhere from a quarter to a dollar.

It’s all part of the goal to get to 80 books.

“When kids have 80 or more books in the home growing up, they have stronger academic performance in school and better literacy and numeracy skills as adults,” Harry said. “We all need to take active steps to surround ourselves with books that interest us and make reading and discussing books a part of our home life.

The Race to 80 is on.

The Rowan County Literacy Council has been serving Rowan County since 1976 and is headquartered in the main branch of the Rowan County Public Library at 201 W. Fisher St.