By Analiz G. Schremmer
DEL RIO–When a family is struggling to put food on the table, stocking the house with interesting literature while fostering a love of reading in their children isn’t usually a priority.
“You can’t normally find a bookshelf in low income housing,” said Janeene Young, who started a literacy program with her husband, Shon, last summer. “Most of these children don’t own their own books.”
The 2016 summer program for children grades 1-5 lasted for 10 weeks and served more than 45 children in three different subsidized housing communities in Del Rio.
Shon Young, Texas Baptists River Ministry missionary for Del Rio, explained that a lot of the children they serve have parents who don’t speak English, which makes the children prone to falling behind in reading because they don’t have the opportunity to read at home with their parents. He added that the reading program is a way to encourage reading at home and also to show the children that they matter.
“In each location, we took a story and made it theme oriented,” Shon Young said. “For example, one week we did a story about camping, so we fed the children camp food for lunch, read in a tent and made camp crafts. We would have one read-aloud book and library time where we took tupperware containers full of books and the kids could check out between 2-4 of them.”
Jeneene Young said that it can be hard for these children to go to the library, so they wanted to bring the library to them and throw in a few incentives.
“If you read 10 books during the program, we give away a prize in the end,” she said. “On our last day, we had a big reading fair and block party where mission teams put together brightly colored book shelves so kids could pick out their own bookshelf as well as 20 books to take home. How can you create a love for reading when you don’t have books at home? We wanted to make sure these kids would get books to enjoy throughout the year.”
She added that on the last day, they also took the opportunity to share the Gospel with the children and their families. Besides their new personal libraries, children took home a new Bible for kids. Parents received new adult Bibles as well as literature to help them learn to access resources in the community.
Shon and Jeneene said they were able to begin the literacy program with the help of Dr. Lester Merriweather with Literacy Connexus.
“It was something that God had put in our hearts. Our pastor put us in touch with Dr. Merriweather who connected us with Del Rio Housing Authority and helped in many other ways,” Shon Young said, adding that he filled their car with five boxes of books on the same day that they first met him for lunch.
This summer, the Youngs are expecting an even greater number of children, volunteers and mission teams. They also expect several of last year’s teacher volunteers to come back and offer their support.