No 602



There is an old Chinese Proverb that goes, “If you are planning for one year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees, but if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”
Our forefathers must have understood this proverb clearly, because our nation’s educational system became the envy of the world. At the same time we were also becoming the most powerful and most economically successful nation in 6,000 years of recorded history. However, in more recent times, something has happened, and now the United States ranks 18th of 21 industrialized nations in test scores of reading, math and science.
While doing research over the past several years, I have learned that in this age of technology a nation’s success, a community’s success and an individual’s success is determined by and large by its literacy rate. A person cannot become truly educated until he or she learns to read. Today in America more than 20 percent of our adults cannot read at level one, the fifth grade. Something else I have learned is that our crime rate goes up as our literacy rate goes down. It follows that the most at-risk group of people in America are children who are being reared in low-income families, because they own few, if any, books.
This is the backdrop for the terrific literacy project we started here in Conway, Ark., called a “Bookcase For Every Child.” At this writing we have built 150 quality, personalized, oak bookcases and given them, along with a starter set of books, to these children who often grow up in single-parent homes and need help if they are to succeed in today’s society. Without help, many of these children will wind up on welfare, in gangs, on drugs and in jail or prison.
What is unique is that this project is conducted entirely by volunteers and uses no tax money or government grants. Our only cost is just to buy the wood and supplies to build the bookcases. We raise this money by selling my book titled, “Learning, Earning & Giving Back,” and I give all book sale profits to this project. This is my own way of giving back. I don’t personally earn a penny from these sales, so when I ask you to buy a book, I’m not asking for me, but for these children.
The ideal situation is for 300 people to purchase one book for $15.95, as this provides enough money to build 50 bookcases. Since improving literacy is a long-term problem, we are doing this each year. We have been doing this for the past three years, and now the concept is spreading to other communities, both here in Arkansas and to other states. Our goal is to help it spread to communities all across the nation.
The plan is simple. Every person who buys a book becomes a member of the “300 Club” for Literacy and we publish the names with a big thank you for supporting literacy in your community. We want to encourage you to purchase two books: Keep one and give the other to a friend and encourage them to pass it on to someone who understands the need to improve literacy, especially with these children from low-income families.
There are two major barriers to overcome if this “300 Club” plan is to work. First, most people do not see the link between crime and illiteracy. They think that a serious crime, brought about by illiteracy, will never happen to them. I have hundreds of friends and thousands of readers who can well afford a $15.95 book, if somehow we can help them see that buying a book is really an investment in the future of their children and grandchildren.
The other barrier is getting this word to enough people to make a difference. It takes time and effort for a concept like this to take root and grow, and here in our community we have had lots of help, not only in buying books, but building bookcases, giving children’s books and reading to these children. Our bookcase project committee deserves the credit.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034. To support literacy, buy his book, “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)