NEWARK, NJ — United Way of Greater Newark President and CEO Catherine Wilson announced March 17 that the University of Chicago My Very Own Library program in Newark will distribute 240,000 books to participating Newark schools in celebration of its 10th anniversary. UWGN’s University of Chicago MVOL program aims to promote childhood literacy and foster a love of reading in young children. Since it was founded in 2011 in Newark, the program has provided more than two million books to elementary school students.
During the pandemic, the program has pivoted to continue providing free access to an online library of literacy resources and virtual book read-alouds from nationally recognized authors, including Newark native Tami Charles, author of “All Because you Matter.” With the support of the University of Chicago, MVOL has significantly increased the number of books and resources from women and authors of color.
“Youth empowerment and literacy are core pillars of our work and My Very Own Library is a key program in our community. At a time when children have been separated from their friends, peers and teachers, missing out on crucial social and emotional bonds that are created when children are physically in school, My Very Own Library has been filling an important gap, pivoting its services to meet local needs,” Wilson said. “We are excited to celebrate this important milestone and look forward to continuing to increase access to quality educational resources and services for young children and their families.”
My Very Own Library began in eight Newark public schools and has grown each year, currently operating in 35 schools. Before the pandemic, twice yearly, students attended Scholastic book fairs where they would self-select five free books. Additionally, award-winning children’s authors participated in school visits to discuss their books and hand out autographed copies. At the end of each school year, every participating school selects an All Star Reader who is recognized for their outstanding literacy achievements.
“United Way and Scholastic have been committed partners of the district for many years and we are proud to accept this incredibly generous donation of 240,000 books,” Superintendent of Schools Roger Leon said. “The My Very Own Library initiative continues to provide additional literature to every child in elementary school, enabling them to build their very own libraries at home, improving their comprehension skills, which are essential to academic growth and success, and opening their minds to endless possibilities and academic pursuits.”
“We are excited about the continued excellence of our partnership in Newark with the United Way and Newark Public Schools,” said Duane Davis, executive director of the University of Chicago MVOL initiative. “During the pandemic, we have worked with Scholastic book fairs to offer students great book titles with characters and creators who come from communities like their own in Newark and across the country. Book access and book choice are central to our mission, and we are working to get more books into students’ hands and homes.”
“Promoting literacy among our children is the key to increasing student achievement and paving the way for future success,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said. “As we continue to face challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, successful programs like this are more important than ever in creating new opportunities for Newark youth and helping ensure our children reach their fullest potential.”