By the year 2020, Emily Ball Cicchini wants the literacy nonprofit she runs to provide 20 books for every child in Central Texas living in poverty between the age of zero and five.
To help with that, her organization, BookSpring, is turning to an unusual partner: local doctors.
Through the group’s “Readwell” program, in which doctors provide parents with books during every visit, BookSpring has put books into the hands of 22,000 Central Texas children. And now, the group wants to double that.
“Language is the key to success.” Cicchini said. “If you cannot read or write, if you cannot process verbal or written language, you’re at a disadvantage. We want every child to reach their full potential through reading.”
That is why partnerships with doctors are so important. More than 90 percent of children under the age 0f 6 visit a doctor’s office at least once a year, the group says, making it the perfect site to teach parents about the importance of reading to their children at such a key stage in their development.
The group provides books to all kids but places an emphasis on giving books to low-income children who often do not otherwise have access to books, which slows their development.
“For children in low-income neighborhoods there’s one book for every 300 children, where in affluent neighborhoods there’s 13 books for every child,” Cicchini said. “It’s that disparity of access to books to low-income children that we’re trying to correct.”
BookSpring also makes an effort to reach the people it serves where they are. It has incorporated dual language books that are in English and Spanish for its population of parents who are largely Spanish-speaking. It also provides books in Vietnamese, Arabic, Burmese and other languages.
Cicchini estimates there are about 80,000 children ages 5 and younger living in poverty in Central Texas. To get 20 books for each, the group needs to provide 1.6 million books.
BookSpring is reaching about 40,000 of those children through multiple programs, Cicchini said, but it needs to double its operations to meet the current need.
In May, the group got a big boost toward growing its “Readwell” program when it won $18,500 in award money at the Philanthropitch nonprofit fast pitch competition. It also earned admission into the Mission Accelerator program, a type of business boot camp for nonprofits looking to refine their business strategy, which will help it grow the “Readwell” program.
BookSpring is already working with 100 doctors in the area in 30 medical clinics. But to reach more people it needs to find a way to get more doctors to join the program.
“There’s a lot of internal support by doctors already doing it,” she said. “The question is why are the doctors not doing it, not doing it? And how can we get the doctors doing it to convince those not doing it?”
The group also hopes to find ways to package its “book bundles” for the programs. Those bundles, which will be distributed to participating doctors, will have books as well as recommendations on how to make the most of reading to children. But the group is still looking at how to maximize the benefit of those bundles.
“We want to make them as efficient, affordable and effective as possible,” Cicchini said.
This is one in a series of profiles of the eight Philanthropitch finalists to be profiled by the American-Statesman. To learn more about BookSpring, visit bookspring.org.