“Our vision for El Paso is to ‘put a book into the hand of every child in our community, changing lives one book at a time.’"
The Texas Center for the Book has announced that Books Are GEMS is the recipient of the fourth annual Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award. This $2,000 award, which honors a qualified 501(c)3 organization that has made outstanding contributions to increasing literacy in Texas, is modeled on the Library of Congress’s annual literacy awards. Funded by the Friends of Libraries & Archives of Texas (FLAT), the 2019 Literacy Awards also include two honorable mentions, awarded to the Austin-based Inside Books Project and Teen Bookfest by the Bay in Corpus Christi.
Books Are GEMS’ mission is to inspire children and empower families through literacy. A children’s bookstore located in El Paso’s beautiful lower valley, its programs have been growing in reach since its founding in 2003. Since then, more than 1.5 million books have been given away to local families.
All children who visit the bookstore may select six free children’s books (one new book and five gently used books) per month at no cost. Teachers may take up to 25 used children's books twice per school year and have access to the Teacher Resource Room, where everything is free. Books Are GEMS partners with El Paso schools and organizations to distribute free books to children through various events organized throughout the year.
Through collaborations with El Paso Community College, the University of Texas at El Paso and several local high schools, students are trained to aid in general bookstore operations. This gives young adults the opportunity to fulfill school requirements while gaining new skills.
With a membership in the Rx to Read program, Books Are GEMS provides new books to local physicians to hand out to young patients with a "prescription" to read. Each participating pediatrician receives 50 books to distribute to patients. Studies of similar programs show that parents are more likely to read to young children if doctors encourage it. Those children also score six months ahead of their peers in literacy. The Rx to Read program has given out more than 30,000 books to date.
“Our little gem in El Paso, Texas, is honored to be recognized and receive this award,” said Books Are GEMS President Louie Gonzalez. “Our vision for El Paso is to ‘put a book into the hand of every child in our community, changing lives one book at a time.’ This award will support the Saturday Story Time program, putting at least 1,800 books in the hands of children and educators via our Six Free Books program.”
Honorable mention award recipients Inside Books Project and Teen Bookfest by the Bay will each receive an award of $500 in recognition of their efforts to promote reading and combat illiteracy.
Inside Books Project, founded in 1998, receives written requests from inmates for books and resource guides and sends publications back to the them; books become the personal property of the prisoner. In 2014, more than 18,000 requests were received, and Inside Books provided more than 35,000 free books to prisoners. During each volunteer session, dozens of volunteers learn about the hopes and challenges of Texas inmates from personally reading and responding to their requests.
Teen Bookfest by the Bay was founded in 2015 by a group of Corpus Christi Bay area school and public librarians for the express purpose of planning and providing an annual book festival for local teens. Librarians from school and public libraries in Corpus Christi, Orange Grove, Bishop, Aransas Pass, Gregory-Portland, Rockport, Robstown and other communities take part in the one-day event held every winter. Teens have the opportunity to meet published authors and to learn about the writing and publishing process. In the past, many librarians traveled with teens to other book festivals in Texas, the nearest of which is a three-hour drive from Corpus Christi. The goal of Teen Bookfest by the Bay is to bring that opportunity to students in the Corpus Christi Bay area who are unable to make that trip.
“We were delighted to receive 30 worthy applications from across the state in the fourth year of the Texas award. The purpose of this award is to highlight a winning organization, while promoting a greater appreciation and awareness of literacy efforts statewide,” said Texas Center for the Book Coordinator Rebekah Manley.