Photo By: Courtesy of Reach Potential Movement
If you build it, they will read. That’s the basic concept behind Reach Potential Movement’s (RPM) Bookshelf in Every Home project.
Each fall the nonprofit brings an army of volunteers to Mountain View and Sunnyvale schools on weekends to build bookshelves for low-income families with kindergartners. The students personalize the bookcases by helping the volunteers construct and decorate them, then choose several books to place on those shelves.
“The children often say, ‘Para mi?’ – like, ‘For me?’ – ‘I really get to keep this?’” said Mountain View resident Christy Tonge, who co-founded RPM with Rob Schulze of Sunnyvale. “For some, it’s the first book they’ve ever owned.”
The project doesn’t end there, however. RPM later conducts a parent workshop to help ensure that the children read their new books.
“That’s at the heart of what we’re really trying to do,” Tonge said of the workshop, led in English and Spanish. “It’s really about equipping them to understand that they are the No. 1 resource for their child when it comes to helping them succeed, and we provide them with some tools and information on how to help (their children) read.”
Serving schools where most students receive free or reduced-cost lunches and many of the parents have not graduated from high school, the bookshelf project has been a hit. Tonge recalled how several families of incoming kindergartners queried a lead volunteer – whose son benefited from the project last fall at Mountain View’s Castro School – about participating this year.
“They asked her, ‘Will there be another bookshelf project this year? Will we get one of the bookshelves?’” Tonge said. “It’s neat how it’s spreading in the community and families are eager to take part.”
The bookshelf and follow-up literacy projects are the initial steps in RPM’s goal to help Silicon Valley youth reach their highest potential.
“Our motto is ‘A dream in every heart, a diploma in every hand,’” Tonge said.
To this end, RPM offers several programs for students in elementary and high school. It provides tutoring through its Homework Club at the Gateway Neighborhood Center in Sunnyvale – where physical fitness opportunities also await – and encourages youth philanthropy through its YouthLEAD (Leadership, Empowerment And Development) program.
Then there’s the Dream4College project, which has proven to be a smashing success each spring. Focused on first-generation-to-attend-college children, the project involves taking fourth- and fifth-graders – and their parents – on a tour of Stanford University.
“We’re trying to plant the seed – the more education they get, the more successful they’ll be,” Tonge said.
The project has made an impression on children and parents, according to Tonge. She recalled running into the father of one of the students who took the tour the prior year. He raved about how it motivated his son to do well in school.
“He told me, ‘My son is getting such good grades and is working so hard. He really wants to go to college and he’s set his sights on Stanford,’” Tonge said. “He had a vision in his mind – like a goal – and his father was encouraged that he was focused and doing everything he could to realize that dream.”