Inspired by her son, a Cleveland, Ohio, mother has vowed to spend the entire summer of 2020 giving away books to children who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdown. She hopes her efforts will stave off the “summer corona slide” kids would otherwise experience without enough books to read at home.
Chrishawndra Matthews is the founder of the nonprofit Literacy in the HOOD (Helping Out Our Disenfranchised), which focuses on improving literacy for children in low-income families.
“I’m one of them,” says Chris. “I look like them. I got a son that look like their children. My son looks like their grandchildren, but more importantly, I’m able to meet them where they are.”
Chris first started the nonprofit after her three-year-old son began learning to read and she wasn’t able to find enough literacy resources for him in the city. She wanted to help other kids get access to books and literacy aids as well to help them keep up in school.
Recently, Chris has begun setting up a table full of free items like books, games, flowers, and popsicles at drive-thru food pantry events and anywhere else she can find families in need, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods.
“With COVID-19, everybody was pushing screen time so now we’re trying to push some carpet time, and just me and you and some reading,” she says.
Chris is doing everything she can to make sure disenfranchised students have the reading materials they need to stay sharp and keep up with their classmates. Her main goal is to get kids reading and to help parents understand why it’s important to read with their children for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day.
“Just stay reading so when your children go back to school, they can still be reading on their same reading level,” says Chris’s 9-year-old son, Derrick Smith, who often helps her give away books. “It’s gonna be alright for them if they keep on reading.”
Recent research suggests that the average student will return to school in the fall with only 70 percent of the literacy skills they learned during the previous school year. Kids who are given books to read over the summer, however, do better on tests in the fall and perform as though they’d been enrolled in three years of summer school.
According to Kids’ Book Bank, roughly two out of three low-income kids don’t own a single book. You can help more kids get access to free books by clicking here.
Check out the video below to watch Chris’s amazing work in action.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?