THE BLOG
04/16/2014 12:48 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

The Collective Power of a Nation of Readers

Steve White, a volunteer at a local nonprofit, worked through the holidays to ensure that 3,000 kids in need in Denver would have brand-new books of their own at Christmas.

Elisa Mayo, the finance coordinator for a school district in Mississippi, helped students at her Title I school get the books -- and the encouragement -- they needed to start book clubs, and now dozens of students, from third to fifth grade, voluntarily skip recess to meet and to talk about their new books.

A community group in Navajo County, Arizona was so determined to have a free library for local children that they raised money through bake sales, started with a donated room in a nearby gas station, and eventually came up with the funds to build a library.

These everyday heroes all have something in common. They are part of First Book, a nonprofit network of teachers, librarians, community leaders and program administrators serving kids in need -- a network that stretches across the country and around the world.

These men and women and thousands more like them are working every day to transform the lives of children from poor neighborhoods, and they know how desperate the need is. Kids from low-income families lack the resources that many of their middle and upper-class peers take for granted. Every study confirms the impact that has on their futures. One study that never fails to shock revealed that, while children in affluent neighborhoods had access to an average of 13 books a day, in low-income neighborhoods, there is only a single age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

First Book is working to change that. We partner with the publishing industry to provide books -- brand-new, high-quality books -- to the teachers and program leaders who sign up with us. Our network is the fastest-growing group of educators in the country serving kids in need: we just reached the incredible milestone of 100,000 registered schools and programs.

Reaching that milestone is exciting, because that means that we're reaching more children in need than ever.

But there's another reason why bringing so many educators together matters.

By joining First Book, the people we serve are acknowledging something important: we have more power collectively than we do as individuals. It's one of the most powerful ideas in human history, from the birth of cities to the workers' unions that built the country to the marvelous online social networks that are transforming how we communicate.

We've already seen the impact this can have. For example, at one point, there was no bilingual edition (English and Spanish together) of the perennial children's classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but the educators we work with requested it repeatedly. Based on that feedback, we were able to go to the publisher and show that there was real demand. A bilingual edition rolled off the presses shortly thereafter, a book now available to all children and families.

This unprecedented network is also the source of valuable insight into the needs of those serving children at the base of the economic pyramid. There is no group of people whose voices are more critical to our collective future; what they have to say about the 30 million children living in low-income families in the United States and their futures is of paramount importance to us all.

Everyone at First Book is proud of our role in supporting this network. But we know there's much, much more to be done. We estimate that there are 1.3 million educators and program leaders out there eligible to join us, and we're doing everything we can to connect every single one.

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