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!!