Program Gives Kids a Jump Start to Literacy and Success with Six Years of Free Books

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A toy store in Boulder, Colorado is giving all children through age six a free book through each year of life. The purpose of the program is to help combat the national epidemic of illiteracy, which costs the nation billions of dollars each year and wastes human lives.

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PlayFair Toys believes that kids' dreams come true when they have the essential skills to make them come true - and reading is one of those skills. Yet many children have no way to develop a love of reading and books until they reach school age. High rates of functional illiteracy suggest that by that time it may be too late to help many of them. PlayFair Toys wants to help change that by putting books directly into the hands of all preschool aged children in their community, without cost or obligation. Their new Books for Boulder program will give each child in Boulder and surrounding communities one free quality book a year through age six, without cost or obligation.

Dr. Marilyn Walker, owner of PlayFair, patterned the program after Dolly Parton's "Imagination Library," which gives every child in Parton's home of east Tennessee a book each month until they are five years old. "We don't have the means to do this monthly, but I wanted to do something with the potential to save someone from a lifetime of illiteracy," says Walker. Children in the program get a free board book at birth and on their 1st through 3rd birthdays, then a hardcover book for their 4th, 5th, and 6th birthdays. The books will be gift wrapped to emphasize the specialness of the occasion.

The program is not limited to Boulder - children from any community may participate. The only requirement is to sign up at PlayFair Toys with the child's name, address, and date of birth, and then come in during the birthday month to pick up the book. A reminder postcard will be sent each year. A second phase of the program that will allow families unable to make the drive to Boulder is planned for early 2010. That phase has the potential for a national reach. The national phase will require fundraising and additional infrastructure, so starting small and locally is a way to make an immediate difference.

The costs of adult illiteracy are estimated at $240 billion each year in lost industrial productivity, unrealized tax revenues, welfare, crime, poverty, and related social ills. As much as 23% of the adult American population is functionally illiterate, reading at no more than a 4th grade level. In Colorado, approximately 10% of the population lacks basic literacy skills. Even in Boulder County, rated by Forbes Magazine as the nation's most highly educated community, about 7% of the adult community is illiterate. American businesses lose more than $60 billion in productivity each year to employees' lack of basic skills. Over 60% of incarcerated adults are illiterate.

Why is a retail store giving away merchandise during a recession? "Now more then ever we need to reach out," says Walker. "This may sound trivial, but if we can make a difference in one child's life, it will have been worth it," says Walker. "These are lives we are talking about - the lives and futures of our children. Illiteracy is an avoidable tragedy."

PlayFair Toys, http://www.playfairtoys.com, is an educational and specialty toy store in Boulder, Colorado that is dedicated to positive child development and education. PlayFair Toys is located at 2550 Arapahoe Ave in Boulder, 303-444-7502.

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Marilyn Walker
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