One day last month, Donja Garvey made her regular visits to several schools across the Sacramento region. She led one of her favorite activities: story time.
As the founder of My Mother’s Voice, she is part of a team of volunteers who provide educational support to children in need. They’ve done the work since 2006, motivated by a mission of ending generational poverty. They visit preschool through third-grade classrooms, providing educational enrichment and basic necessities for about 1,200 children at impoverished, Title I schools.
That day last month, after she finished reading, the inevitable happened: questions from about a dozen excited students, all at once. One little boy approached her to share something personal and important.
“Ms. Donja, I love my bear so much,” he told her, referring to the teddy bear he received from Garvey’s Reading Bear Buddies program. The program is designed to encourage children to become interested in reading aloud to a nonjudgmental (and cuddly) audience.
“My mom stitched it up … and we had to finally throw it away because it was falling apart,” he continued. “I was devastated.”
When Garvey returned to the boy’s classroom, she gave his teacher a new reading bear, wrapped up as a present to be given to him after class.
Book of Dreams readers are asked to help support My Mother’s Voice programs for kids in need, like Reading Bear Buddies. These include A Book of My Own and Cover the Basics.
“This is a big deal,” Garvey said. “This isn’t, ‘Oh, yea, I got something,’ and it gets lost. These are things that say: ‘You’re important. I’m watching you. I care about you. You’re part of my life.’”
Fundraising is especially critical this year, because the organization missed a chance to compete for a $10,000 grant. Because of that miss, some of their schools have had to go on waitlists.
In the Book of My Own program, students get to choose their own grade-level book after story time, based on their own interests. Each comes with a little gift, such as a bookmark or — during springtime — flower seeds.
Cirby Elementary kindergarten teacher Kim Vaughan said that her students are get excited to choose a book to take home.
“Most students don’t have any books at home, so they are even more excited that these books are theirs to keep,” she said via email. “They love the stories she reads and feel so loved when (she) arrives with special goodies for them.”
In the winter, volunteers bring children a tote that includes school and art supplies, card games, gloves and hats. Garvey has spotted some children snuggling their gloves and others exclaiming, “I’ve always wanted some of these!”
“It’s a big deal,” Garvey said. “Parents have said it makes their (child’s) Christmas.”
During December, every child hears a story about a little mouse named Owen who likes to bring his blanket to school. Then they get to choose a warm, colorful fleece blanket for themselves and “they are just overjoyed,” Garvey said. They also receive pajamas, which always arrive before the school pajama day “so the kids aren’t embarrassed” if they don’t have pajamas or if their current pajamas aren’t suitable for school.
These may seem like small things, Garvey said, but they make a big difference in these children’s lives. This year, about 20 percent of first-grade participants are reading chapter books, Garvey said. Teachers have told the organization that attendance has improved, and parents regularly report that their children have a newfound interest in reading.
The work they do is joyous, concentrating on “all the amazing potential” these children have, Garvey said, adding that the nonprofit’s work is “something nurturing, a mother’s voice” for the community’s greatest asset: its children.
Needed: Money to support My Mother’s Voice programs (Reading Bear Buddies, Book of My Own and Cover the Basics) that helps impoverished children by providing educational enrichment and basic necessities.
Cost: $5,850 to $7,000