Sunday, November 17, 2013

Up On Top - Hope, Stability and Fun for All

Part of FirstBook SF's Advisory Board, Up On Top is a tuition-free after-school and eight-week summer program working with underserved children from K-5th Grade living primarily in the Tenderloin and Western Addition neighborhoods of San Francisco. 

Up On Top supports families by providing children with safe and enriching after-school and summer programs.  Here, we speak to Luanne Schulte, a speech pathologist and volunteer at Up On Top.

How did Up On Top come to life? 
We opened our doors in 2001 in response to the shifts in federal welfare.

How many staff and volunteers do you have?  
Up On Top has four Administrative Staff, seven Program Leaders and 40 Volunteers, serving 110 families.

Who attends Up On Top programs? 
Our target population is children from low-income families who attend the Tenderloin Community School a public school, serving the Tenderloin and Western Addition neighborhoods respectively.  Both of these areas have significant minority populations living with income levels far below the median for San Francisco families.    

Why is childhood literacy so important to these communities?

Students in low-income, high-need communities are three times more likely to drop out of high school than their more affluent peers; they are often not reading/writing up to grade level and by the time they enter high school they are two years behind. Up On Top infuses literacy into all activities in our After School program and in our eight-week summer program. 
Our summer program, focuses on preventing summer learning slide. Every morning credentialed teachers and our program leaders work with the children to encourage them to become joyful readers.  At the end of our summer program in 2012 the children were tested and 93% of the children either improved their reading or stayed where they were at the end of the previous school year. The children can also go to the nearby public library where they can take out books.

What sort of support do you provide for children who need extra help?

For many of the children, who attend Up On Top, English is not their first language so it is doubly important that they receive additional support in English reading and writing. For the children who struggle more than others Up On Top has trained volunteers who provide one-to-one support both after school and in the summer.  We offer a wide variety of activities, healthy snacks, structured play and literacy skill boosting fun - all in a safe environment for families who are in desperate need of after-school and summer care programs.

Tell us about some of the children at Up On Top.
Elvis is one of our 4th graders, who has attended Up On Top since kindergarten. Both of Elvis’s parents speak Spanish fluently with very little English. Elvis has progressed from a below basic student in reading/writing and everyday math  to performing at grade level in math and proficient in ELA (English Language Arts).

If there was one thing you could say to a potential donor, what would it be?

Up On Top infuses literacy throughout all program areas so students are learning, growing and developing skills each day to be successful in school and in life. By giving to Up On Top, we can help students in our community have access to the same information and resources as their more affluent peers and will offer the same opportunities for the future.  Come along and see what we're about!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


In our continuing series of interviews with our FirstBook community, we chat with Lynne Maes the Program Coordinator for the San Francisco chapter of BookPALS.

Founded in 1993 by Barbara Bain, BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools) is a national all-volunteer program comprised of performing artists who read aloud to students in public elementary schools and shelters. Through the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation, BookPALS has 5 chapters nationwide, including San Francisco, which serves children all over the Bay Area. This year marks the 15 year anniversary of the San Francisco chapter of BookPALS.

FB: What is your mission?
LM: The mission of BookPALS, a community outreach program, is to stimulate interest in reading and writing and encourage children and families to read and write on their own; to awaken young imaginations; to enrich vocabularies; to open the doors to a broader, richer landscape; to help children and families visualize themselves in other realities, and to inspire and motivate children and families to communicate and to listen. The Screen Actors Guild Foundation is an education, humanitarian and philanthropic non-profit organization. The SAG Foundation administers BookPALS, and is funded solely by contributions from private and corporate organizations and individual donations.

FB: How many staff and volunteers do you have? 
LM: We have ONE staff person, and 75+ AWESOME volunteers; we also have tremendous support from our community partners, who make my work life easier and more fulfilling!

FB: Who comes to you for support?
BookPALS can really go anywhere children gather regularly. The bulk of our work is done in schools in underserved communities. We have a strong relationship with homeless shelters in SF, where BookPALS have been integrated into children’s programming.

FB: Why is childhood literacy so important to these communities?

LM: The children we serve are children who are likely to have arrived in Kindergarten at a disadvantage—their middle class peers have likely enjoyed many hours of read aloud and exposure to books with caring adults, while children whose families experience economic and other stresses do not have equal access and opportunity. The research shows that the disadvantage compounds over time, so there is a clear link to high school drop out rates and reading below grade level at 4th grade (which is directly linked to K academic readiness).

FB: If there was one thing you could say to a potential donor, what would it be?
LM: All children deserve the opportunity to be equally ready for success in school and beyond: this means putting books into their hands, and empowering the caring adults in their lives to foster the love of learning and reading that helps each child reach their potential.

FB: What's a ‘normal’ day for you at BookPALS?
LM: On any given day, I spend a good deal of time corresponding via email, meeting in person, and speaking on the phone to recruit, place, and support volunteer readers. I make many site visits each week, supporting readers and teachers to partner effectively on a weekly basis. I work as a BookPAL as well, reading in two elementary schools and one head start!

Throughout the year, I educate and train new readers about the importance of childhood literacy, and how they can most effectively support the kids they are serving. This year we put on our PreK Powow!—a special training for readers working with the youngest children.

I help plan and execute special events at least once a month—we hold regular readings at homeless shelters, Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, and yearly events such at RAA, KQED’s Ready to Learn Fun Fair, and Literacy workshops at the SAG-AFTRA Northern California Local.

FB: How does BookPALS work with FirstBook San Francisco?
LM: BookPALS’ relationship with First Book allows us to leverage our budget to provide books to children in need.  We have families who have experienced the terrible stress of homelessness.  One of the children that was given books from BookPALS was so transfixed he stopped opening presents and immediately became engrossed in the story.

 Even in the midst of a big celebration at the housing shelter, he dropped everything to read. This is what First Book and BookPALS are about—putting books into the hands of kids, and building the motivation & desire to read!!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Remembering Elmer Owens

Elmer Owens, First Book SF Board Member, passed away after a long illness on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

Elmer was an accomplished speech pathologist. He was a kind and gentle man of great good humor who contributed much to the success of Up on Top and First Book San Francisco. He is greatly missed.

A celebration of Elmer's life will take place on Sunday, May 19 @ 2:30 pm @ the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin @ Geary.

Here is a link to Elmer's obituary on SF Gate.

Below are two photos of Elmer in lively conversation with fellow First Book San Francisco Board Member Kathy Katz at a First Book event in May 2010.


Elmer Owens and Kathy Katz

Elmer Owens and Kathy Katz

Friday, May 03, 2013

Jamestown Community Center - Preparing Parents To Be Excellent First Teachers

In the first of our blogs featuring the people who are part of our FirstBookSF Community, we chat with Alli Cuentos, an Early Education Specialist at Jamestown Community Center. The Center serves more than 1100 youths and their families in the Mission District in San Francisco. The center offers academic enrichment, sports, leadership training, youth employment, violence prevention and community building programming.

How long have you been operating, and how many staff and volunteers do you have? We’ve been at work for 41 years and have close to 60 staff and over a dozen volunteers. We serve families with children, from birth to young adulthood who live in the Mission. Our services are free of charge and we are a welcoming and helpful community center.

What is a ‘normal’ day like at Jamestown? It’s a mixture of routine -- and being surprised! The ritual of setting up educational materials, art projects and literacy activities and cleaning them all up somehow never seems boring. And the kids and family members are always teaching me new things. Each day I interact with children growing and exploring by the minute and excited families who are eager to support the healthy development of their kids. Included in the mix are meetings with kindergarten teachers, staff at other community agencies and trying to document what I do along the way.

Why is childhood literacy so important to these communities? Early Literacy is a key component of our Early Education Program. We have 75 children a year between birth and age five who attend one of our weekly parent-child groups, our Kindergarten Readiness Program or whose family members attend our Family Literacy workshops. Almost all of our children are English Language Learners and many of them don’t have any formal early education experience. Helping their parents be outstanding first teachers is vital in ensuring that the children be set up for success upon entering the public school system. Having a strong foundation of literacy skills in their home language will better prepare them for success in school. 

Can you tell us how a client or family has benefitted from your organization?

One mother, a recent immigrant from Guatemala, has a 16 month old daughter. She and her husband share a very small room in an overcrowded living situation and her husband works long hours in a restaurant. This mother is incredibly dedicated to the education of her daughter and committed to doing whatever it takes to guarantee the best option for her future. The lively pair attends our Early Education programs twice a week and never misses a parent workshop, literacy event or parent meeting. The mom is constantly asking questions and is hungry for articles and resources to better support her family. Through connections made at our program she has started taking English classes, now has a public library card (inserted link to SF Public Library here) for herself and her child, and attends other fun and stimulating programs around the neighborhood. She has also shared her positive experiences with other recently immigrated moms at the park and brought several of them with her to our program. She now has a decent collection of bilingual books at home and a ton of ideas about how to share them daily with a toddler on the go!

If there was one thing you could say to a potential donor, what would it be?
Celebrating Jamestown's Spirit Day 

There is nothing in the world more gratifying than seeing parents and family members fall in love with reading along with their child. The privilege to facilitate a passion for life-long learning and connections between children and the adults who care for them is priceless. Whether it means purchasing books for distribution or supporting direct programming, this is TRULY the gift that never stops giving.

To read the latest news on the Jamestown Community Center, go to

Monday, April 08, 2013

Celebrate the Dia de Los Ninos

Sunday April 14 marks the Dia de Los Ninos, an annual event that celebrates children, books and families through multicultural music, dance, storytelling and other fun activities.  

First Book San Francisco members, including BookPals, Children's Book Project, Jamestown Community Center and Project Read will be on hand to celebrate this fantastic event, that kicks of the Week of the Child.  This year, Día is brought back to San Francisco's Mission District, its heart and soul, on Sunday, April 14,2013, at the Mission Branch Library planned in partnership with Sunday Streets 

The event, which started in San Francisco in 1999, helps to celebrate the diversity in the community and provide a book to each child to help start their own library to instill the love of reading. In ten years, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros through this annual celebration has distributed over 8,000 multilingual books, 1,500 magnets in English and Spanish with tips for enjoying and sharing books together, over 6,000 book marks using art by local artists commissioned to create positive and diverse poster images for over 6,000 walls in Bay Area classrooms, libraries, community organizations, children’s bedrooms, recreation centers, parks, community clinics and other spaces where children we reach live and learn.

Dia de los Ninos, Dia de los Libros is a collaboration of Mission Learning Center/Reading Partners, KQED, SFPL, and various community organizations throughout the year.

For a full lineup of events, visit