Press Release

Weingarten Challenges AFT Members to Give 5 Million Books to Kids in Need

For Release: 

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Tom Lansworth

Announcement Marks Major Expansion of First Book Partnership Aiding Low-Income Students

DETROIT—At the American Federation of Teachers national convention in Detroit, AFT President Randi Weingarten today challenged the union's members and local affiliates to partner with First Book to distribute 5 million new books to children from low-income families over the next year.

During the last six months, in more than 20 pilot programs across the country, AFT affiliates have joined with First Book to give away nearly a quarter of a million books to students and families in need.

"AFT members and affiliates have already ensured that thousands of children have books at home that they otherwise would not have had. Having books of their own can open children's minds to learning and literature, and introduce them to worlds beyond their own," said Weingarten. "This is our new challenge. Today I am calling on AFT members to partner with First Book to distribute 5 million new books this year to students in need."

The challenge launches a major expansion of the union's partnership with First Book, a national nonprofit organization that has distributed more than 90 million books over the last 20 years to kids who could not otherwise afford them.

"Our partnership with First Book ensures that children have access to an essential building block of literacy—their very own books," said Weingarten. "It's another way the AFT is advancing solution-driven unionism—connecting the people we represent to the people we serve, linking arms with community, building bridges and tackling challenges."

Weingarten's challenge came during a presentation at Cobo Center, where more than 3,000 AFT members are attending the union's convention, which opened Friday and concludes on Monday. Participants in the presentation included First Book CEO Kyle Zimmer and local AFT leaders who have been involved in the pilot projects.

"For 20 years, First Book has been putting books and resources into the hands of kids who need them the most," Zimmer said. "We can do amazing things together. By joining forces with the AFT, we're able to reach more of the heroic educators on the frontlines and bring record numbers of new books to kids in need."

In the week leading up to the convention, the AFT and First Book partnered to hold a book bank distribution at a Detroit-area warehouse. AFT volunteers helped ship nearly half a million books to participants nationwide, and AFT members personally picked up more than 30,000 books to give to their students.

In America's poorest neighborhoods, statistics show that the average number of books at home is just one for every 300 children. A recent Harris survey found that interest in reading nearly tripled in children who received books through First Book programs. 

Any school or program serving children from low-income families (where the low-income enrollment is at least 70 percent), or that is Title I or Title I-eligible, can participate in First Book. After registering with First Book, teachers and other staff who work with children can order free or greatly discounted new books for their students.

Follow AFT for convention updates: #AFTConv12

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.