Making Connections Through Reading: Cops ‘n’ Kids Literacy Program

By Jennifer LoConte

You know you are doing the right thing in life when all the forces of nature conspire to make you successful.” Beverly Bradley, President of Cops ‘n’ Kids Children’s Literacy Program, keeps this quote as a daily reminder of how a single book can forever change the life of a child. According to The State of Literacy in America, 61% of the poorest children have no books in their homes. Additionally, the US Census reveals that there are areas of the Lehigh Valley with a significant percentage of families living below the poverty level. Cops ‘n’ Kids, a national initiative, was originally founded by Wisconsin police officer Julia Witherspoon. The mission of Cops ‘n’ Kids is to connect kids and community through literacy. Specifically, the initiative strives to ensure that every child has access to books in his/her home; encourages positive relationships between children and police; and inspires creative learning experiences between children and families. In June 2003, the Lehigh Valley Chapter of Quota International adopted the initiative on a local level.

Bradley, a retired school teacher of 30 years, has been the Program’s director since the very beginning. She says, “I originally told my husband this would be my fun, Thursday project and hoped to give out 1000 books.” This past April, at the 5th annual Cops ‘n’ Kids Reading Celebration, the number of books distributed reached 400,000. Bradley’s enthusiasm and dedication to less fortunate children is a part of who she is. Raised by her mother, Bradley and her four brothers lived in poverty. She says, “My community and schools were extremely kind to my brothers and me. You don’t forget where you came from and I knew I had to find a way to give back the same kindness that was shown to me.” The little Thursday project quickly grew and with several thousand books, Cops ‘n’ Kids needed a home of its own. Coca Cola Bottling opened up its doors, offering book storage in its warehouse. Then, in 2005, Northampton Community College helped form the Cops ‘n’ Kids Reading Room, located within NCC’s Fowler Family Southside Center in Bethlehem. Children and families gather in this 1,132 square-foot fully-furnished room to read, share stories and of course, take home a few books. In addition, there are community-sponsored events including monthly Meet the Authors series where children receive a complimentary autographed book, as well as seasonal activities throughout the year.

In the early days of the program, Bradley set up a bin inside the Bethlehem Recycling Center where she quickly collected 30,000 used books that otherwise would have been thrown away. Rodale Publishers held the first book drive, collecting 2,000 books. Bradley says that schools are eager to help by holding annual book drives. Last year, the Emmaus High School Key Club collected 3,000 books. This year, the entire East Penn School district collected 24,800 books.

Originally, Cops ‘n’ Kids was based upon building positive relationships between children and police officers. Bradley says, “Law enforcement was eager to become involved, especially because at-risk youth needed positive role models.” Today, police departments from across the Lehigh Valley support Cops ‘n’ Kids, from reading books to assisting with book drives, even cooking and serving meals at special community programs. Realizing that additional community members could also help change children’s lives, Bradley reached out to the entire educational community, local businesses and organizations, the political arena and anyone else eager to participate. She says, “We rely solely on the support of volunteers. I especially love working with older students so that they can experience firsthand the emotional connection of reading and giving a book to a child who has very little to call his/her own.” Additionally, a book plate is attached inside every book with the date,  and “to and from” inscribed within to immortalizes the connection.

Bradley’s strong commitment to Cops ‘n’ Kids, partnered with the tremendous support of the Lehigh Valley, helped win many local and national awards including the 2006 Quota International award as one of the top five service projects in the world. Also in that same year, they received the Governor’s Citizen Crime prevention Volunteer Recognition Award.

There are a variety of ways to become involved with Cops ‘n’ Kids.  Book donations of gently used books,  Reading Room volunteers, holding a book drive, sponsoring and/or assisting at community events as well as monetary donations to help pay for labels and materials are always needed and appreciated. Visit copsnkidslv.org or email [email protected] for additional information. The Reading Room is open to children and families every Wednesday from 11am to 7pm.

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