Volunteer during Day of Action community book drive

The summer solstice is almost here, and to celebrate, Middlesex United Way is encouraging hundreds of volunteers to take part in Day of Action June 21.

Day of Action is an annual event that mobilizes the power of volunteers to create positive change in more than 450 communities around the world. This event is held traditionally on the longest day of the year, and Middlesex United Way is committed to rallying our community together for this year’s event. We will be hosting our first ever community book drive throughout all 15 towns that make up Middlesex County.

This year, local residents, businesses, community groups and activists can help promote early childhood literacy by participating in Middlesex United Way’s community-wide book drive, held from now until June 21. We are inviting everyone to donate new preschool books to help Middlesex United Way, in partnership with our Early Childhood Councils, increase youth literacy.

With your donation of age-appropriate books for 2- to 5-year-old students, you can help children in our community start kindergarten prepared and jump-start their learning.

Middlesex United Way understands that children must be able to read to best prepare themselves for success in school, work, and life. We support programs that assist young children to become school-ready, and also educate their parents about the important role they play in their child’s earliest years. That is why we have ensured 100 percent of Middlesex County towns have early childhood collaborative programs, providing resources to parents and teachers of preschoolers, and ensuring kids are socially and emotionally ready to succeed in kindergarten.

Children who are not at an age-appropriate reading level by third grade are far less likely to graduate high school than their peers. By focusing on early literacy, children improve their speech and cognitive skills, develop a positive association with books, and help them develop a love of learning. For the family, reading helps promote the child’s understanding of the work, and reading together is proven to strengthen the bond between parent and child.

Rather than donating random reading materials, we have come up with a strategic list of age-appropriate books to collect this year. These books were recommended by our Early Childhood Councils and will make the most impact in students’ lives. Books collected will be distributed to early childhood centers supported by Middlesex United Way, as well as other public and private child-care providers.

Suggested book titles we are hoping to collect include the following:

“Global Babies” by Maya Ajerma, “I Like Myself!” by Karen Beaumont, “Deep in The Sahara” by Kelly Cunnane, “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña, “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio, “Rainbow Stew” by Cathryn Falwell, “Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes” by Mem Fox, “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall, “We are All Different, We are All the Same” by Bobbi Katz, “Big Red Lollipop” by Rukhsana Khan, “All Fall Down” by Helen Oxenbury, “Lots of Feelings” by Shelly Rotner, “Cradle Me” by Debby Slier, and “Red is a Dragon by Roseanne Thong.”

To see a complete listing, visit middlesexunitedway.org/bookdrive.

There are numerous independent bookstores throughout Middlesex County that we encourage participants to purchase the books from. These shops include Bennetts Books in Deep River, R.J. Julia bookstores in Madison and Middletown, and Burgundy Books in Westbrook.

Middlesex United Way has three ways for Middlesex County residents to get involved in the Day of Action this year. First, all residents are invited to donate books and encourage their families, networks, colleagues to also donate. There will be a drop-off location in every town in Middlesex County.

We will also be collecting donations at our office at 100 Riverview Center.

Second, we are looking for workplaces, organizations, churches, and groups to host their own book drives. By hosting your own location, you can more easily promote this deserving cause to your staff or members and see how much good can be done collectively. You and your fellow donors would be directly giving back to the community we all love so much. If you would like to host a drive, please sign up at the website or call us at 860-346-8695.

Lastly, we need volunteers to join us the week of June 25 at our office. After the books are collected, we will need volunteers to help sort, label and package the books. There are three days available, Monday through Wednesday, and each day will have two shifts, from 10 a.m. to noon. and again at 4 to 6 p.m. If you are interested in volunteering, please sign up at the website. You can also call Maria Wood at 860-346-8695.

Kevin Wilhelm is CEO and president of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.