“98% of those children in that community are African American and 89% of those children are reading below their school level and or cannot read. And we found that there are generations of the same family, same group of children, who cannot read.
“When we go to the prison systems, especially here in Chatham County, 85% of the youth that you find that are incarcerated are illiterate. We also find that over 1 million Georgians alone are illiterate. So, that's one of the key reasons why you find so many youths in trouble is because they have no education on top of their environment and living in poverty.”
Smith saw how much literacy played a part in her ability to get a degree in dental assistance and later also in early childhood education.
She said she wants that same opportunity for others in the West Savannah community.
“Our goal right now is just to make sure we create literacy programs and life skills programs where we have a holistic approach where we work with not only the child but the family as well.
“We've had about four book drives now in West Savannah community and Fellwood Park.”
So far, Book Nation of Dreamers has collected more than 450 bags of books geared towards kindergarten through 12th-grade reading levels. Smith said the genres range from fiction to cookbooks to how-to guides.
These books will soon be available in Little Free Libraries along the roads of West Savannah.
“Our overall goal is to make sure every single block has a lending library. So not only children, but people in general, can have access to books.”
The plan doesn’t end there. Smith said she and other volunteers with the organization are looking for a space where they can hold life skills lessons as well as literacy programs.
“One of our co-founders is Jimmy Greene. He teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Gracie [Jiu-Jitsu Savannah]. So one of the things we want to bring to the community and to the kids as well as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It teaches you so many things: how to control your body, control your mind, and just how to be more aware and calmer in your own space.”
Smith said the group is already working on a public garden and culinary and finance classes too.
While Book Nation of Dreamers is starting with West Savannah, Smith said they plan to branch out into other underserved Savannah communities.
“It starts with our children. I hear people often talk about the future, but the reality of it is, if we really truly want a future, then it starts with teaching and helping our children.”
Smith knows not everyone has the ability to volunteer, but something as simple as donating spare art supplies, seeds, or good books can go a long way in helping the children on West Savannah.
“It is our duty as adults to set the tone and encourage the things that we know are going to help them thrive, and to make sure that we can secure a future.”
The main focus of Book Nation of Dreamers is children, but Smith said she wants to benefit the whole family.
“We’re trying to have programs for both the family and the child because that way we can get the parents involved.
“If everybody is thriving on the same page learning some skills, that's how we uplift people to get out of poverty, and that's how we build the community as well.”
Book Nation of Dreamers is a 501 ©(3)
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Book Nation of Dreamers wants to better their community and get West Savannah kids reading