About five years ago, Betty Harrel, a member of the Poughkeepsie, New York branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), was sitting in the library of a local daycare center waiting to meet with staff as part of a United Way panel. As she sat, she couldn't help but notice that the library had a sorry collection — the few books that were there were old and needed to be replaced.
Harrel left that day and placed a small request for book donations in the next Poughkeepsie AAUW newsletter. Little did she know that this seemingly small gesture would turn into one of the organization's most successful programs: Leading to Reading.
Leading to Reading's goal is to get books into the hands of underserved children in Poughkeepsie and surrounding communities. The program accomplishes this by working with daycares, after school programs and, most recently, with the Children's Home of Poughkeepsie.
"Children who are in dangerous home situations or who have been abandoned are brought to the Children's Home until a more permanent situation can be arranged," explained Harrel. "They literally arrive in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their back."
The Leading to Reading program offers these kids something to take their mind off of the situation, if only for a moment — a tote bag, donated by 4imprint® through its one by one® program, filled with two books, activities and a stuffed animal.
"Our goal is that when they leave, they have something of their own and something of comfort to take with them," said Harrel.
According to Harrel, the response from the Children's Home has been extremely positive and the kids' faces literally light up when they learn that the bags are theirs to keep. Some of the older kids even convert the bags to school bags.
Harrel has been a member of AAUW Poughkeepsie for several years and has worn many hats but feels a special connection with the Leading to Reading program.
"AAUW is a great organization to work with and with the books, to see kids that don't have the resources get a gift — it's a small thing to us, but a huge deal to them," says Harrel. "That's the nicest part of the program."
Working with other like-minded organizations, including the Community Family Development Center, Beacon Even Start, the Children's Home of Poughkeepsie, Catharine Street Community Center, Tubman Terrace After-School Program, Astor Head Start, Hudson River Housing, and the United Way of Dutchess County, the Leading to Reading program has distributed 3,000 books to date.
For more information about Poughkeepsie American Association of University Women, please visit