I'm very proud and excited to announce the first-ever recipient to my Kickass Single Mom $1,000 Grant! In the six weeks since I announced the program, nearly 600 moms have applied. It was wonderful to learn about so many incredible women doing amazing things, it was tough to narrow it down. Lucky for you and me both, applications are rolling, and a $1,000 grant will be awarded on the first of each month.
Jennifer Little, 44, won me with her Little Hands Book Bank, a program that collects gently used children's books and distributes them to kids-in-need. The Frisco, Texas mom to 9-year-old Jamison was inspired to turn family's no-longer-needed books into a program that will help other families, and support low-income kids' early learning.
“I grew up in a family of readers, and I always loved books. It was only natural that when I became a mom, bedtimes were about snuggles and stories. I was of the population who understood: You have to read to your baby!” says Little, who says she was never married, but remains close friends with her son's dad, who lives nearby and with whom she shares a warm co-parenting relationship. “When my son out grew what were beautiful books, I looked for local organizations that would make sure they found a good home, but found none.”
While thrift stores were an option, that required that families seek out then purchase the books, which are considered luxury items by many families. Researching ways to get books to kids who need them, led Jennifer to the horrifying statistics about reading, learning and poverty. For example:
- 61 percent of low-income families have zero books for their children.
- The ratio of books per child is 13 to 1 in middle class neighborhoods, but in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 book for every 300 children, according to one study.
- Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level when it comes to predicting the future level of education attainment.
- The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school, according to the National Commission on Reading.
- The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home, according to the paper The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions.
Little intuitively understood these statistics to be true. Her own son learned to read easily, in part because he'd memorized his favorite Eric Carle books, and those on his favorite subject: sharks.
In 2011, Jennifer decided to make some changes in her life, inspired to spend her time on meaningful projects, including more time with her son. That led her to quit her successful public relations career to teach students at University of Texas, Arlington about her profession, fulltime. “Our campus is the fifth most diverse in the country, and there are a lot of non-traditional students who just need someone to guide them, and help direct them. For to offer career advice as a professional is huge.” Jennifer said. She also committed to building Little Hands Book Bank, which became a board-directed 501(c)3 in 2012. To-date, Jennifer estimates she has spent more than $7,000 warehousing the 3,000 books that have been collected and stored, waiting for her to find them a home.
Neighbors familiar with her endeavor drop off bags of books on her front porch. Churches and neighborhood groups host book drives. And since he was little, Jamison's birthday invitations request book donations en lieu of gifts – a practice he once grumbled about, but now embraces.
“Even though I have the means to give my son certain experiences and quality of life, it still is not always easy to always feel like I'm doing the right thing, to teach him how to be a productive young man,” Jennifer told me when I asked her if she is motivated by the fact that a disproportionate number of low-income kids are raised by single moms. “If I didn't have the means that I do, I really don't know how I would do it.”
After five years of fits and starts, Jennifer is now up and running. The organization needs just $3,000 per year for storage and supplies, plus volunteers to collect and sort books, form relationships with nonprofits that serve their target children, and raise awareness. Later this year, Little Hands Book Bank will give tote bags with 12 books each to 146 4- and 5-year-old preschool participants at a Dallas area HeadStart program. The 1,752 books will be taken home, where they can be read and loved.
“It's important to have that tote bag so the books will have a safe place once they are home,” Jennifer told me. “It is also important that they have 12 books, so they can be best prepared for kindergarden.”
Jennifer points out that Little Hands distributes any religious books that are donated to local schools, and notes that if people are prone to sell their used titles to a used book store should consider they will likely get 50 cents or less per book.
To learn more:
About the Kickass Single Mom Grant
Every month I give $1,000 to a single mom committed to building a positive life for herself, her family and contributing to the world in a productive way.
The Kickass Single Mom Grant supports endeavors that show promise for success — whether it is a career, business, nonprofit, charitable, creative or family project that is already underway and could use a financial boost.
This might include paying for formal education that will advance your career (or launch a new career!) that makes you happy and proud, propels you to financial independence and makes you a great role model for your children and others whose lives you touch.
You might seek to use this money to build your dream business — one that lights your passion, contributes to the world in a positive way.
Maybe you have a volunteer or nonprofit project that is blossoming.
Perhaps it is a personal project that you want to describe to me.
One part of this grant is to support incredible single women doing amazing things.
The other part is to highlight incredible single moms to inspire and uplift others who may not see in themselves what is possible.
Applications are rolling, and awarded monthly. The next grant will be announced May 1, 2017. To learn more, go here.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.