Rebecca Constantino, founder of Access Books, has an interesting wish for her nonprofit organization: â€œWhat I would really like to do is close up shop.â€
Is she dissatisfied with the work? Disillusioned? Merely tired of it? Not at all. She simply imagines a future where the work Access Books does is no longer necessary. â€œIt is my dream that the need for organizations like this ends,â€ she states.
She has an uphill battle.
Access Books provides children in low-income communities across Southern California with much-needed reading material. Run entirely by volunteers, the organization facilitates interaction between diverse groups. as children from more fortunate communities gather to donate their excess books to communities in need. The communities also band together to paint vibrant murals in run-down libraries in need of a makeover.
The urgency of the situation in Los Angeles’ inner-city schools cannot be over-emphasized. California currently ranks last in the nation in school library funding. The statistics are terrifying. The national average for school library funding is approximately $16.50 per student; in California, the average is 30 cents per student. Thirty percent of California schools have no librarian at all.
Although there is only so much that a nonprofit organization can do, Rebecca Constantino is determined to make a difference. She started in 1999 by delivering books out of the trunk of her car, and the organization has taken off in a way she could never have imagined. Access Books has now worked with more than 100 schools and provided more than 1.2 million books to Los Angeles classrooms and community libraries.
More important than statistics, however, is the human impact of the Organization. Rebecca tells the story of Johnny, who was known to his teachers as â€œall trouble, that kid.â€ Rebecca put him to work painting his school’s library, and later offered him a ride home from the event. She learned that he lived with his grandmother, he had never met his mother and that his father was in prison. He told her he felt like he was living in his own prison, and asked if he could come with her to paint more schools.
Over the next six weeks, Rebecca took Johnny to a number of Access Books events, sending him home with new books to read each week. After their last week together, Johnny’s grandmother asked to speak with Rebecca. Her account of the situation reveals the reason Access Books cannot be disbanded any time soon: â€œShe put her hands on her hips and declared, â€˜I don’t know what you done to this boy, but he changed. It used to be them other boys would come by so they could run wild in the streets and now he don’t go.’ As I was silent, she continued, â€˜You know what he be doing?’ Before I could answer, she told me, â€˜HE BE READING. He be up in his bed all day, reading.’â€
Rebecca, Johnny and his grandmother all shed tears that day. Books had opened up a new life for Johnny. That is the heart of Access Books â€“ not a charitable impulse, but the desire to bring people from all walks of life together to share the joy of reading and to give children opportunities they never would have had otherwise. Rebecca emphasizes that Access Books is not â€œone group of people riding in on white horses to save another. The groups work together.â€
Access Books is always looking for volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering at an event or simply in donating books, visit www.accessbooks.net or call (310) 284-3452.