BUFORD, Ga. – Statistics show the future can be dire for disadvantaged children who grow up without books in their homes.
They’re less likely to learn to read well and more likely to drop out of school, to become dependent on government welfare programs, or to go to jail as adults.
That’s why an act of generosity by some 180 kids in Ivy Creek Baptist Church’s Vacation Bible School program last week is noteworthy: They donated 2,500 children’s books through Read Georgia, an initiative aimed at helping disadvantaged children learn to read while introducing them and their families to Christ.
The books will be given to children who have none in hopes of equipping and inspiring them to become strong readers.
“Every year for VBS, we partner with a local mission effort in order to help our church family understand the mission’s needs better as well as provide our kids a tangible opportunity to contribute to missions,” said Caroline Dale, the children’s program director at Ivy Creek. “In past years, we have supported Families 4 Families with a diaper drive, North Georgia Co-op with pantry items, Nothing But the Truth Ministries with food items for weekend backpacks and M28 Church with items to put together essential item bags for street ministry.”
Dale said selecting a ministry for the VBS kids to support was easy this year.
“We immediately were drawn to the Read Georgia initiative as we have never collected books, and this seemed like a really fun project for our VBS kids,” she said.
Mission Georgia, a ministry of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, adopted Read Georgia, recognizing the potential positive impacts.
Lorna Bius, a mobilizer for Mission Georgia, said the generosity of the Ivy Creek children will pay dividends not just educationally but also spiritually.
“This simple effort is a way the church is showing their love for the community,” Bius said. “A book donation is a great way to help kids get involved in the mission field they live in. What Ivy Creek has done is a glimpse into the heart of our Georgia Baptist family of churches who are addressing needs and being a Gospel witness in our communities.”
As a retired teacher and a concerned Christian, Donna Millner knows just how dire life can be for people who don’t master reading by third grade. That’s why she is such a strong proponent of Read Georgia.
“The mission of Read Georgia is to enable churches to partner with local schools to support children in their quest to become good readers and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them and their families,” Millner said.
Mission Georgia has launched a “21 in 21” initiative with the goal of having 21 churches involved in the initiative when the 2021 school year starts in August.
Belinda Harris, who taught second grade for more than 30 years in Fulton County, said the initiative has proven beneficial for schools, churches, and, most importantly, children.
“This is important because students learn to read in grades K-3, and they read to learn in grades 4 and up,” she said. “We want to close the gap before third grade.”
Millner is convinced the ministry can change lives.
“Three to four times a year, we will have celebration times,” Millner said. “Most of the time, those celebrations are held in the church. So, when we have the celebrations, the children bring their families. Now, the families have a church that they can connect to.”
Mission Georgia will supply churches with resources they need to recruit volunteers as well as a guidebook to walk them through the steps necessary to adopt a school.
Volunteers work about 90 minutes once a week with two children one-on-one.
Millner’s church, Arbor Baptist in Fitzgerald, has found that the children aren’t the only ones who benefit from Read Georgia. The volunteers do, too.
“Read Georgia has just brought laughter and fun back into my life and it’s given me a purpose, because I’m actually helping the next generation,” said Virginia Cox, a volunteer from Fitzgerald. “That makes a big difference in the way I feel about myself.”