"The home is the child's first school, the parent is the child's first teacher,and reading is the child's first subject." - Barbara Bush
Last month, in our profile of former first lady Barbara Bush, we mentioned that she is currently serving as head of the The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The Foundation has been going strong for twenty years, helping families realize the importance of literacy and helping parents and children learn to read together by supporting the development and expansions of family literacy programs across the country. They award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations, correctional institutions, homeless shelters, schools, school districts, libraries, and community and faith-based agencies. Since 1989, they have awarded over $32 million to 723 family literacy programs in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
The Barbara Bush Foundation began awarding grants in 1990, receiving applications from all over the country. In September of that year, they awarded eleven different grants totaling over $500,000. By September 2007, the foundation had benefited over 650 programs, many of which still serve their communities today. In January 1996, the Foundation began launching statewide literacy grant programs. The first state to receive the grants was Maine. Partnering with the Maine Department of Education, the Foundation has awarded grants to 166 family literacy programs in schools and community organizations.
In February 1996, the Foundation launched another statewide program entitled "The First Lady's Family Literacy Initiative for Texas" which has awarded 118 grants to programs in over 65 Texas cities. Mrs. Bush's daughter-in-law, former first Lady Laura Bush is the Honorary Chair of this initiative. The grants from this program have been given to community-based organizations, libraries, charter schools, pediatric medical clinics, Head Start and Even Start programs, as well as many others. Because of this initiative, more adults are learning English and getting their GEDs, obtaining better jobs, reading to their children, and becoming more involved in their children's school and home lives.
In 1999, the Foundation's efforts move to Florida with the "Governor's Family Literacy Initiative for Florida." Mrs. Bush's son, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, serves as Honorary Chair of this program which has awarded grants to over 151 programs throughout Florida.
In addition to the grants and statewide programs, in 1995, the Foundation started "A Celebration of Reading." The annual fundraiser, which began in Houston and is now held each year in Texas, Maryland, and Florida, features readings from best-selling authors and members of the Bush family. Proceeds benefit the foundation. Participants in the fundraiser have included Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, Reba McEntire, Patricia Cornwell, and Mary Tyler Moore among dozens of other authors.
Mrs. Bush has called literacy "the most important issue we have" and has worked tirelessly to promote the importance of not just reading, but reading as a family, during and even after her very public life. She has accredited her own family for her love of reading, saying that some of her fondest memories are of her family gathered around each other during the evenings, engrossed in their own reading.