BooksFirst! Founder, Bernadette Dorman, grew up in a home without books. Neither of her immigrant parents finished elementary school and what they earned from their factory jobs could pay only for necessities. Since her parents could not afford childcare, Bernadette would spend all of her afterschool hours at the library located on her way home from school. She went from reading four to six books a week from the 1st through the 12th grades, to becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college, and went on to earn a Master’s degree before she was 22.
In 2014, Bernadette became aware that thousands of Chicago kids were growing up without books in their homes and did not have an accessible library. In fact, fully 70% of the Chicago Public Schools in low income communities do not have libraries. Bernadette began reaching out to Chicago families through Facebook and Chicago parenting boards asking for donations of kids’ books. Within 18 months, she had received 3,000 books. She then reached out again to ask for volunteers to deliver books to Chicago schools without libraries. With no funding or other resources, working full-time and raising a family, Bernadette was able to create libraries in two of Chicago’s most underserved schools.
Within two years, Bernadette was joined by four other families who committed to BooksFirst!—permitting their homes to be drop off points, delivering books and posting flyers. By 2018, without funding and any formal structure, BooksFirst! collected and delivered over 60,000 donated kids’ books to 30 Chicago Public Schools.
BooksFirst! demonstrates how can lives be changed without spending a penny. All the children’s books delivered are donated by unpaid Chicagoan volunteers ranging from individual to families to schools to organizations. Bernadette hopes that the success of BooksFirst will be inspiring to others.
(To learn how you can help in the time you have, please visit BooksFirst!’s website: http://www.booksfirstchicago.org)