Expanding to West Ashley

Begin With Books offers free books to children under 5 in certain zipcodes, and it plans to expand to 29407 in West Ashley. Organizers are looking for volunteers to help raise money and enroll children.

If you’re interested in getting involved, meetings will be held Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the St. Andrew’s Regional Library, 1735 N. Woodmere Dr.

For more information, go to www.beginwithbooks.org or e-mail beginwithbooks@gmail.com.

West Ashley resident Eva Jayne is excited about the possibility that two of her three daughters soon could be receiving free books in the mail each month.

Want free books?

Any child who is 4 years old or younger and who lives in one of the following zip codes is eligible to receive a free book each month.

Eligible zip codes include: 29401, 29403, 29409 (downtown); 29426 (Adams Run); 29429 (Awendaw); 29438 (Edisto); 29449 (Hollywood and Meggett); 29455 (Johns Island); 29458 (McClellanville); 29470 (Ravenel); and 29487 (Wadmalaw Island).

To register for the books, go to www.beginwithbooks.org.

The Charleston-based nonprofit Begin With Books provides free books to any child under 5 who lives in certain areas, and they’ve picked the 29407 zipcode in West Ashley as the next community eligible for its books. Two of Jayne’s three children are under the age of 5.

How to donate

Begin With Books needs to raise $86,000 to expand to West Ashley, and it also needs continued support to grow and sustain its program.

A contribution of $165 sponsors five children and delivers 60 books, and a donation of $33 sponsors one child for one year and delivers 12 books.

Checks should be made payable to Begin With Books and can be mailed to: Begin With Books, P.O. Box 183, Charleston, SC 29402.

Donations are accepted online at: www.beginwith books.org.

For more information on how to contribute to its Early Literacy Fund, contact the Coastal Community Foundation.

“They love getting things in the mail, and they don’t care what it is,” she said. “If they get books that we’re going to read together, they’d really be excited, so this would foster their excitement with reading.”

Begin With Books is an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and it has delivered 33,512 books to 2,691 local children since starting in August 2010.

The group began in rural Hollywood under the leadership of two volunteers, Patty Bennett-Uffelman and Janet Segal. They have replicated the same formula – recruit community volunteers to lead each zipcode’s fundraising efforts and to enroll children – that has enabled the program to grow to downtown, Awendaw, McClellanville, Edisto, Wadmalaw Island and Johns Island.

“It’s a combination of our skillset and our belief that this program is so worth doing,” said Segal, who joked with Bennett-Uffelman about the number of hours they invest in the program. “And we find that this program attracts the highest level of volunteers.”

Begin With Books doesn’t have any paid staff, and that’s on purpose, Segal said. As a volunteer-run operation, they can ensure that all donations go to providing children with free books.

The program costs about $33 per child per year, and children receive one age-appropriate new book in the mail every month.

There is no income requirement to be eligible for the books, and Bennett-Uffelman said that means there isn’t a stigma to receiving books. It also creates common connections among children with different backgrounds who live in the same community, she said.

The West Ashley expansion will mark its largest to date. Begin With Books serves 2,079 children under 5 in Charleston County, and the 29407 zip code has 2,179 children under 5.

The nonprofit received a $30,000 challenge grant from the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust to help grow the program into West Ashley, and organizers say they will need a total of $86,000 to meet their fundraising goal.

They’re looking for a team of at least 50 volunteers to help raise money and enroll children, and they hope that children could begin receiving books by the end of this school year.

“We’ve been methodical,” Segal said. “Each of our expansions has been a little bigger than the one before it, and we’ve been successful.”

Bennett-Uffelman said they picked West Ashley because it was geographically connected to other zip codes it already was serving, and it already had some volunteers in the area.

The nonprofit’s intention is to serve the entire county, and the only barrier to that is funding, Segal said. It would cost an estimated $500,000 to provide books to every child under 5, but Segal said that would ensure most every child who entered school would be ready to learn.

“Because the books show up 60 times (from when children are born until they are age 5), something is going to happen with those books,” Bennett-Uffelman said. “It will make a difference.”

Bennett-Uffelman is so committed to the program that she and her husband established the Begin With Books Early Literacy Fund at Coastal Community Foundation this year. The endowment will continue to grow, and she said it helps ensure the program’s future stability.

“I wanted to emphasize the long-term nature of the program,” she said.

Gail Blair is a parent advocate who lives in West Ashley but works downtown at Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts School. When the program launched downtown, Blair volunteered to find matching money and enroll eligible children. She worked with the school’s pre-kindergarten classes to ensure eligible 4-year-olds were receiving books.

“Any time I see a little one, I’m asking parents if they’re enrolled and explaining the program,” she said. “They get excited and the excitement trickles down.”

Blair plans to stay involved with the program and help the West Ashley effort. She’s passionate about providing children with a good education, and so much of that comes from reading, she said.

“Reading is one of the best things children can do,” she said. “That’s a foundation for them, and if they get that … it’s a great start.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of the grant from the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust.

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