University of Arizona’s Pi Beta Phi chapter was one of five chapters in the nation chosen to hold a 20,000-book distribution Day of Service event, to be held Feb. 28 and March 1, 2019.
“It was largely based on how they were able to describe the need in their communities,” said Jo Alenson, Pi Beta Phi alumna and co-chair of the fraternity’s Day of Service Event. “And the need [for books] in Arizona … it’s extreme here.”
Pi Beta Phi’s philanthropic initiative, Read > Lead > Achieve, aims to encourage literacy and “a lifelong love of reading,” according to the fraternity’s website. The UA Pi Beta Phi chapter applied to earn the 20,000-book grant for the 2019 Day of Service in June 2018.
“Seventy-Nine percent of fourth graders from low-income households do not read proficiently,” read Pi Beta Phi’s national website, quoting a 2014 study. "This statistic is an indicator of the future of the child’s 'educational and economic success'.”
In 2018, 70 percent of fourth-graders in Arizona were below proficiency level in literacy, according to an article from Arizona Sonora News.
"UA’s Pi Beta Phi chapter aims to change that statistic,” said Corinne Querrey, a junior majoring in physiology and active member of Pi Beta Phi.
Through programs like Champions are Readers, a “reading enrichment” initiative, members aid in literacy efforts by going to schools like Borton Primary Magnet and Robison Elementary.
“We go and do homework help and Champions are Readers with them, and so we work one-on-one with the kids, making sure they get all their assignments done, making sure they’re reading and writing adequately for their grade level,” Querrey said.
The event also aims to help children limit their screen time, Querrey said. A study in 2017 showed that children between the ages of 2 and 4 spent an average of 2.6 hours per day on screen.
“We’re also trying to inspire them to limit that screen time and engage in a book and further [their] education and make that a priority, because that’s going to get you so much farther,” Querrey said.
When the books for distribution arrive Feb. 28, in time for the Day of Service, which coincides with the March 2 birthday of Dr. Seuss, efforts will be focused on registered organizations in Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties. Other regions will also be a focus of the distribution, including San Manuel, Mammoth, Oracle and Catalina, which reside in Pinal County, due to their proximity, according to Sandra Rutherford, Pi Beta Phi alumna and co-chair of the recipient group.
“The recipient groups are individuals [and] organizations, and they have to be qualified for low-income status. There’s different criteria, definitely schools in need,” Rutherford said. “They register with an organization called First Book.”
Any interested individual or representative of an organization that qualifies can register with First Book to receive new books for free nationwide, including multiple teachers at the same school, which makes the distribution of the 20,000 books more difficult, Rutherford explained.
“Because 20,000 books sounds like a lot. It’s not,” Rutherford said. “We have to limit our distribution to one recipient group for each school.”
Other groups that are interested can go on waiting list to see if any books are available after the rest have been doled out to their intended groups.
In addition to the national initiatives, the UA chapter has started a “Little Free Library” program where the members build and decorate bird house-like structures to install throughout the local community, stocked with books.
“People can just go in and take a free book,” Querrey said. “Now the idea is, it’s ‘take a book, leave a book,’ so it’s a little exchange program, but we don’t expect people to just be carrying books with them all the time.”
Every few weeks, the libraries will be restocked with books that have been donated and collected by the Pi Beta Phi chapter.
“The need in this area is so great for literacy, and it is such an honor to be able to do this [event] in the community, and that’s just an important message for me,” Alenson said. “I believe it. I know it matters.”
If others would like to get involved in the distribution event, the chapter will need volunteers to offload the books on Feb. 28 at Tucson Medical Center, sorting the books into age groups, and aiding recipients in gathering their books on March 1 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Volunteer forms can be found online.
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