AFT-WV celebrates 10 years of First Book program in Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nearly 7.5 million books have been distributed to students nationwide as part of a program that started in West Virginia 10 years ago.

The nonprofit First Book launched a partnership with the American Federation of Teachers in 2011 at then-West Side Elementary School in Charleston to offer free books and other supplies to schools who lacked access.

Leaders returned to what’s now Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School to celebrate the 10 year milestone in the school’s library and to hand out books to students returning to class this fall.

AFT-West Virginia President Fred Albert said some students are receiving a book for the first time in their life.

“It starts their own personal library,” Albert said. “It also underscores the importance of literacy. Hopefully it makes them a lifelong learner and a lifelong lover of reading.”

First Book has donated nearly 60,500 books to West Virginia schools over the last decade.

Albert said they try to reach teachers and students who may not be able to afford a good book.

“It allows educators to buy classroom sets at very reasonable prices. It will hopefully bring children to a level that they maybe would not have otherwise had,” he said.

First Book President, CEO and Co-Founder Kyle Zimmer said they’ve been there in times of need for thousands of schools across the country.

“We’re supported communities that were struggling with natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Harvey. We’re worked side by side to address the devastating impact of COVID-19,” she said.

Zimmer said the work didn’t stop once the pandemic hit in March 2020.

“Over 7,500 educators stepped up and ran their own distributions out of their garages and doing door stop deliveries through the months of the crisis,” she said. “Those educators take my breath away.”

AFT national president Randi Weingarten spoke at Thursday’s event. She referred to a time when a student at McDowell County got so excited to receive his first book years ago, adding reading is important to a child’s overall development.

“We know reading is key to unlocking the world, but the key to that is the joy of reading and the joy of having a book in your hands that is yours,” Weingarten told a crowd of teachers, school board members and students in Kanawha County. “We can spark a love of reading.”

AFT-WV and First Book also distributed free books to students at Edgewood Elementary and West Side Middle schools on Thursday.