How a book drive supports economic development

By Bernie Buescher and David Hammond

Mesa County residents, businesses and non-profits just gave early literacy a big boost by donating eight times more children’s books to this year’s Colorado Business Reads book drive than to last year’s. And children, the local economy, and the greater community will benefit if this multisector commitment to early literacy and early childhood development continues to grow.

The success of Colorado Business Reads, the statewide book drive of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (“EPIC”), depends heavily upon its local community partners’ leadership and efforts.

Fortunately, the United Way of Mesa County took charge of this year’s local drive. Thirteen businesses hosted collection boxes. Families donated their gently used children’s books and new ones as well, and American Furniture Warehouse supplied muscle and trucks to collect their donations. Volunteers sorted the donated books, and, then, on May 6, hundreds of children took home over 2,400 books.

Although giving books to children is important, the formation and success of this business, nonprofit and donor partnership to foster early childhood development is the really encouraging story.

Why is a shared commitment to early childhood development so important? A child’s neurobiological development is like a house’s foundation: It must be built first, and the foundational skills acquired in early childhood must be strong enough to support the child through school.

Without a strong foundation, many children start school a year behind in reading and math development, and they do not catch up, according to Jane Waldfogel, who co-authored “Too Many Children Left Behind.”

Unfortunately, the evidence shows that way too many Mesa County children do not have the necessary foundation. According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign’s Kids Count in Colorado! 2017, only 35.5 percent of fourth graders meet or exceed English language standards, well below the state average. Reading at grade level by the end of third grade is essential because that is when children move from learning to read to reading to learn, and children not reading at grade level by fourth grade are far more likely to drop out of school.

The good news, however, is that high quality early childhood development can make a big difference, especially for disadvantaged children. As the Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman has shown, facilitating early development of both cognitive and character skills yields better than a 13-percent annual return as the result of increased productivity and decreased remedial, social service and judicial costs.

Supporting early childhood development is not just about helping someone else’s kids: It is about building a stronger community and, with it, a stronger economy.

Jeff Hurd, a Grand Junction attorney and the Chamber of Commerce chairman, agrees that helping young children develop has a role in economic development: “... supporting early childhood literacy is an extension of our support of all workforce development efforts.”

To Clay Tufly, the regional president for Alpine Banks, a commitment to helping young children develop is crucial to persuading businesses to come to Mesa County: “The link between early childhood and our economy can be seen when businesses choose to invest in Mesa County because they believe it will be a good place for children and families to live and grow.”

In short, businesses, nonprofits like the United Way, and individual citizens see the benefits to kids and to the community of working together to support early childhood development. Now, we need to keep the book drive’s momentum going.

Bernie Buescher is a longtime Grand Junction resident and the chairman of the newly formed Mesa County chapter of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children; David Hammond is vice chairman of Executives Partnering to Invest statewide.


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