Darla Bunting, an executive board member of First Book DC and former teacher, talks with Sam P.K. Collins about it all – books, early childhood education, public vs. charter schools, etc. This short interview puts all the issues on the table.
I co-lead First Book-DC with Angel McNeil–an early childhood curriculum guru and instructional coach! Recently, Angel and I had a chat with Jalisa Whitley, founder of Non-Profit Help, LLC, to discuss a variety of things centered around our experience with First Book-DC. Here’s one of the questions and responses:
Tell me a little bit about your path into First Book, what sparked your passion for literacy?
Darla: I found out about First Book as a corp member with Teach for America in New Orleans. I participated in a professional development workshop on nonprofit board leadership, and the presenter was a woman who ran First Book’s local advisory board in New Orleans. As a teacher, I saw the benefit of the program. I taught third, fourth, and fifth grade English and Social Studies in a “failing school,” and was faced head on with the reality that so many kids cannot read or do not have the basic phonemic awareness and foundational skills to propel them to be critical thinkers and readers in later grades. I had to purchase many supplies out of pocket and I found that I could not afford all of the books and educational supplies that were required in order to ensure that I met the needs of my students.
My personal experience as a teacher really sparked my interest in First Book because the organization supports teachers and nonprofit organizations working to fight illiteracy and put quality resources into classrooms. I initially joined the First Book board as a volunteer board member without a title. I had the opportunity to learn from board members of various ages in a variety of different roles. When I made the decision to move to Washington, D.C.I knew I wanted to be a part of the First Book board here, but found that it had dissolved.
The previous DC board was run by members of Sun Trust Bank’s Mortgage Department. Unfortunately, the previous board fell right along with the mortgage department during the crisis. During my transition from New Orleans to D.C. I stayed in touch with the national First Book organization and they ended up tapping me to lead the effort to establish a new First Book board in DC. As a result of my previous volunteer work and involvement, I was able to transition into a formal leadership role when the opportunity presented itself.
Angel: I have been in education for about six years and it is easy to get wrapped up in work, so I wanted to find a meaningful way outside of work to give back to the community that had provided me with so many great opportunities. I found out about First Book while doing a Volunteer Match search where I found a listing for a position on the Advisory Board. It aligned with my beliefs in terms of literacy and providing resources to children and I had the opportunity to begin as the DC board was in the process of re-launching.
Access to resources was never an issue during my childhood, my parents read to me every day. I loved to read, a fun day for me was going to the library and I was always known as the girl with books in her backpack. So, finding out that many underprivileged schools lacked resources was shocking to me. Access to outside resources is essential for children to learn how to read and write, especially in a time when libraries are closing down, teachers aren’t equipped with the funds to constantly purchase books, and the top priorities of parents may not be going to Barnes and Nobles to buy books. I know how far the books and resources I’ve been given have taken me in my life and I want that for all children.
For the second year in row, I used my birthday to give for good and benefit an organization where I volunteer my time: First Book-DC! This year’s Literacy Movement raised over $1,400 to provide book grants for teachers and literacy programs serving children in need. Held on November 9th, at Ulah Bistro on U. Street, my birthday friendraiser brought together over fifty young professionals in the DC Metropolitan Area united to fight illiteracy.
My friend and founder of Capital Media USA, Garrett James, served as the night’s photographer and wrote a great piece on the event. Check out pictures on his website and amazing recap. Below is a snippet:
Quick Story: I grew up in the great state of North Carolina; home of chopped BBQ (not that ‘pulled’ stuff yall northerners eat), tobacco, and some of theeeee BEST universities this side of the galaxy. And with that, we also have/had pretty good public schools systems. So when I came to the DMV and heard that public schools had a different reputation, I wasn’t happy about it but I understood how that could be. What bothered me most then and even today, was knowing that some kids didn’t have books to read at school or at home. Like really? How can we have high expectations for youth if we don’t prepare them properly? It was challenging for me to accept. It seemed like a hyperbole statement someone created to make a point, but it’s not; it’s true. Even now, it bothers me and it bothers Ms. Bunting also. This is one of the reasons she supports First Book; she’s also the Co-Chair with Angel McNeil.
Darla shared some of the org’s model with me recently: “We give out book grants to teachers and nonprofits serving children in need twice a year–once in the fall and spring. Since we are volunteer-led, 100% of your donation goes to our book grants. First Book has partnerships with major book distributors like Harper Collins and Barnes and Noble, so our book grantees use their grants to purchase books for at significantly discounted prices. The average book costs $2.50 on the First Book Marketplace. Your donation goes a long way. Once the teacher or nonprofit receives the books, they use them in the curriculum, and then the books become the property of the kids.” #winning
Check out the full post here and browse around Garrett James’ site while you’re there!
This time last year there was no First Book-DC. However, because of a committed group of people First Book-DC launched and has since had our first grant cycle. Join us tomorrow as we honor the organizations that received book grants and all of you who supported us along the way!
First Book-DC cordially invites you to our
Grant Recipient Celebration
on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
1336 U Street
Join us as we celebrate 11 non-profits and schools that were awarded First Book-DC book grants this spring!
The celebration will honor the organizations that applied to help the most deserving children recieve the gift of reading
as well as our numerous supporters who helped to make it happen.
Enjoy happy hour specials at Tabaq Bistro!
We hope you can join us!
Yours in the Literacy Movement,
First Book-DC Advisory Board
Get connected: Twitter @FirstBookDC