To help

Begin With Books will host a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in The Citadel's Bond Hall Room 295 to discuss how to enroll children under 5 who live in 29403 or 29409 ZIP codes. Anyone interested in volunteering or who has connections to organizations or places where children can be enrolled are encouraged to attend. Please RSVP to j.e.segal@knology.net.Any child under 5 who lives in the following ZIP codes is eligible to receive a free book each month: 29403 (downtown), 29409 (downtown), 29426 (Adams Run), 29429 (Awendaw), 29438 (Edisto), 29449 (Hollywood and Meggett), 29455-57 (Johns Island), 29458 (McClellanville), 29470 (Ravenel), and 29487 (Wadmalaw Island). To register, go to beginwithbooks.org.

Kouvarius Butler's two children love to read, but they don't have more than a dozen books at home.

That's one of the reasons he appreciated the chance to sign up Tuesday for a new program that will provide a free book each month to any child under 5 who lives in the downtown 29403 and 29409 ZIP codes.

“They need books,” he said of his 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.

Begin With Books is Charleston County's affiliate of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which provides the free books to any child under 5 in nine local areas, regardless of their parents' income.

The nonprofit received a $30,000 challenge grant this year that required it to raise $34,000 to be able to provide the free books to downtown children. The group recently exceeded that fundraising goal, and the total is enough to provide 23,000 books to children during the next two years.

“We intend to continue fundraising and keep the program going indefinitely,” said Patty Bennett-Uffelman, who co-founded the local group. “We're feeling thrilled and scared and overwhelmed. It's very exciting and we're looking forward to it.”

The group is starting to enroll the more than 1,300 children under five who live in the eligible downtown ZIP codes. This will mark its biggest expansion and roughly double the organization's reach.

Begin With Books has been growing since its August 2010 launch in rural Hollywood, and its volunteers have raised the needed money to serve children there and in areas near Johns Island and McClellanville. The program costs roughly $33 per child per year, and children receive one age-appropriate, new book in the mail every month.

The nonprofit takes the same approach with fundraising and enrolling students in each ZIP code. Bennett-Uffelman and Janet Segal, the other co-founder, will host community meetings to identify a group of people willing to take charge of the project. Leaders have come forward in each area and committed to fundraising and enrolling children.

Katherine Giles, a freelance writer and editor who lives downtown, was among those who helped support the downtown effort. An English major in college and an avid reader, Giles said she has a passion for reading that she wants to share with as many people as possible.

She is a proponent of the Begin With Books program because of the importance of reading. Children who can read well will go further, she said.

“If children are well-educated, it benefits the entire community,” she said.

Begin With Books has been such a successful venture in Charleston that the Palmetto Project, a statewide nonprofit, plans to use it as a model to expand next year in at least three more counties, including high-poverty Allendale and Hampton.

In Charleston, organizers are encouraging downtown families to sign up, and they are working with organizations that serve young children to make them aware of the program.

Na'Shannon Coakley heard about the Begin With Books program from her 2-year-old daughter's Early Head Start program, and she signed her and her cousin up Tuesday.

“This is good,” she said. “Some parents can't make it to the library every week to pick up books. She loves to read, and I'm going to take time out and read to her.”

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.