Bringing the joy of reading to inmates’ kids

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First Book eventAFT members helped prison inmates surprise their visiting children with free books and treats last month at the Greene Correctional Facility south of Albany, N.Y., distributing the books as part of an event sponsored by the New York State Public Employees Federation and First Book, an AFT partner that joins us in providing free and low-cost books to children in need. To add some winter cheer, inmates who study horticulture set out fresh balsam fir decorations, while PEF members and others handed out books, snacks and school supply boxes including coloring books, crayons and dictionaries.

None of the kids was expecting this surprise when they arrived in the town of Coxsackie, along the Hudson Valley, to visit their incarcerated dad or brother. After spending time with loved ones, the families gathered in a room where PEF Vice President Sharon DeSilva, Region 8 Coordinator Michael Blue, Associate Director Dan Carpenter and activist Michelle Arroyo-Santos gave each child a book to take home.

“It’s a beautiful feeling,” says DeSilva, also a member of the AFT Public Employees program and policy council. “The first time I opened a book as a child, my heart started to race and my eyes opened wide. When you read the words, they take you to new places you can’t even imagine. Reading helps remove you from any dysfunction in your life. That’s why we went there, to help the children get this experience. It is PEF’s way of showing that we care about them, by giving them an opportunity to go to magical places.”First Book event

More than 135,000 AFT members are registered with First Book, an AFT partner since 2011. At First Book, you or your program can obtain books, school supplies and basic-need items (like socks and toiletries) at up to 90 percent off retail prices—and in some cases for free. Click here to register.

In the course of our union’s partnership with First Book since 2011, AFT members have organized community events that have distributed more than 5 million books nationwide. In the AFT Public Employees division alone, the Federation of Franklin County Children Services Employees in Ohio was one of our union’s initial participants and our members continue their First Book partnership to this day, keeping books on hand for foster families.

PEF is planning three more First Book events to be held by this spring in New York State. The next one will be in Rochester.

[Deborah A. Miles, Annette Licitra]