Giving The Gift Of Reading

The Early Show and USA Weekend magazine kick off Friday morning a month-long series profiling some truly amazing people who make a difference every day in this country, by volunteering their time and effort to those in need.

Friday, co-anchor Hannah Storm starts us off with a special woman who understands that a book is a powerful thing.

Books are a luxury parents of many children in New York City's Harlem section cannot afford. This is not the case for Maya and her classmates, at a neighorhood literacy program called CLAP4CityKids.

Like millions of other children living in low-income communities across the U.S., these children are getting a shipment of new books today, thanks to First Book, an organization that is a literacy lifeline.

"You know - there's something so powerful about a book that's yours and yours alone," says First Book founder Kyle Zimmer, who was once a corporate lawyer. Volunteering to tutor a young boy at a Washington, D.C. soup kitchen opened her eyes.

Says Zimmer, "When you look at the data, more than 60 percent of families who are at or below the poverty line don't have a single book in their home for their children."

Zimmer decided to take action, founding First Book in 1992 and handing out 12,000 books her first year.

Zimmer says, "If you can imagine trying to even accomplish math when you can't read, science, social studies, it's utterly paralyzing and they carry that paralysis straight into adulthood."

CLAP4CityKids founder Cynthia Kirkpatrick says, "First Book has been a lifesaver, and I say that because as most non-profits struggle with funding and needing to be very resourceful. One of the things that we never had to worry about, at least for the last couple of years, were books."

A study paid for by the Department of Education tracked 1,600 students over the course of 16 months. That study indicates that the number of children with a high interest in reading doubled, and in some cases tripled, because of First Book.

Thanks to First Book, children are learning about history, and history makers like Thurgood Marshall.

A student by the name of Jovon says, "He was a lawyer; he was very famous; he helped us with the civil rights."

And teachers like Kirkpatrick are conducting a symphony of words as she listens a girl reading.

Words that are music to the ears of appreciative parents and grandparents like Linda Fox, whose granddaughter, Maya, has been taking part in CLAP4CityKids for a year.

Fox says, "She has gotten 'Excellent' on her report cards and her reading and she is doing very well with her spelling."

Over the past three years, First Book has distributed more than 20 million books.

You can read more about Kyle Zimmer and First Book in this weekend's issue of USA Weekend magazine, which is found in over 600 newspapers nationwide or by logging on to USAWeekend.com.

And make sure to tune in to The Early Show next Friday for another inspiring story about people who care.