"It is the role of Burlington County College - and we feel very strongly about this - to reach out to all our young learners because we want them to come up through our system," Freeholder Director Joseph Donnelly said. "We take great efforts when we talk about Burlington County College to talk about job development, economic development, growth."
This fall, students in two English 101 classes will reach out to groups that could qualify to receive some of the free books for children. Targeted groups have more than 70 percent of children in their programs coming from low-income families, according to First Book's website.
"The professors of those two English 101 classes are focused with their students on First Book as a research project. And their charge is to identify students who meet the criteria of students in need as indicated by First Book," said Beverly Richardson, the school's vice president for special projects, who oversees the program. "So by the end of the semester, we should have a list from them of schools and grades and community centers and pockets of young people who do not own a book, or have not had the opportunity to have their own book."
A second group of students, from the college's First Year Initiative program for supporting developmental coursework, will receive the books, sort them, and bundle them to distribute to the groups identified in the fall.
The distribution should be quick, said Veronica Creech, First Book's director of partner engagement. The truck arrives at the beginning of the school's spring-break week and, within days, the cargo should be sorted and picked up.
"I can imagine a community absorbing 40,000 books quite easily," Creech said. "Particularly around March because teachers will be thinking about summer reading, and they'll start thinking about home libraries for kids, so there's a lot of creative ways you can use these books."
At Tuesday's press event, dozens of books lined the table in front of the podium. The Burlington County College-First Book partnership had been kicked off by a $500 donation from the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. Also at the event was Stedman Graham, the educator and speaker known as the partner of Oprah Winfrey.
"I'm so excited about this program because it's about reading. And I just know how important that is," Graham said.
"That's the foundation for learning; it's the foundation for growth and development," he said. "It's the foundation for taking information and education and making it relevant to your life every single day. It empowers you."
Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elaijuh.