Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation Assistance Project

Elizabethton, Tennessee

The Tennessee Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) works to promote early childhood literacy in Tennessee’s birth to age five population. Its purpose is to positively impact early reading skills to address the high number of children entering kindergarten unprepared to learn to read by encouraging increased adult verbal interaction and reading with children from birth. In partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, GBBF gives all preschoolers in Tennessee (including all 52 of Tennessee’s ARC designated counties) the opportunity to receive one book a month in the mail at no cost to the family and regardless of income.

For 13 years, GBBF has worked to secure partnerships in government, business and nonprofit communities to ensure the success of the program and has more than 750 volunteers statewide who promote this program in their local community and raise 50% of the funding costs. GBBF has multiple public and private partners who invest in Tennessee’s state-wide programming.

GBBF’s primary focus is addressing early literacy and its relation to long-term educational success in school. Early Pre-K and elementary achievement increase the likelihood of graduating high school and continuing on through secondary education via Tennessee Promise.

Currently, only 34% of third graders read proficiently and children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are even less likely to achieve proficiency. National research shows that children who are not reading proficiently by the third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school.  Researchers recognize that children are often behind before they reach kindergarten. The importance of having access to quality and age appropriate literature throughout a child’s life, but especially during these critical developmental years, cannot be overemphasized.

Northeast Tennessee Share

GBBF aims to support Tennessee’s campaign to abate “summer slide,”  the loss of literacy skills over summer months due to lack of continued engagement with books and reading activities. While Tennessee’s Imagination Library ensures children have access to age appropriate literature, many families lack the skills to create meaningful and developmentally appropriate interactions with their children using books in the home. Through literacy focused summer mobile programs, GBBF and Northeast Tennessee’s SHARE program leaders were able to reach families where they live, provide quality literature and give access to literacy rich activities and tips to parents on engaging with their children using books.

The need to address this learning loss is especially prevalent in the state’s rural and distressed counties, including Tennessee’s Appalachian region. Through the GBBF Assistance Project, foundation leaders and partners saw the opportunity to use Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) funding to expand services in three high-priority ARC school systems.

Governor's Books From Birth Foundation Assistance Project   

In 2017 and 2018, ARC funding was used to expand the SHARE regional summer mobile literacy program operating in Washington County, into Elizabethton City, Carter, and Unicoi County School Systems. Program expansion funding in the amount of $15,000 provided salaries for teachers and bus drivers, along with materials and supplies needed to prepare decommissioned school buses to serve as mobile literacy vehicles. Buses were equipped to travel into low-income communities at least three days per week for at least four weeks in the summer, bringing free books, reading activities and ancillary programming to families with limited access to early literacy resources.

Through the grant, each bus was staffed by a certified teacher or aide who assisted children with book selections and facilitated literacy activities. An additional staff member was hired to drive the bus and assist with activities upon arrival. Imagination Library and community volunteers assisted with additional programming at each stop.

The project also engaged community and state-level partners. Three school buses were retrofitted by local Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) students in partnership with County Career and Technical Education (CTE) high school students and school maintenance department employees. Each bus was equipped with shelving and crates for book organization, storage for pop-up tents to be deployed at stops and reading engagement activity stations. Throughout the summer, GBBF staff worked with Delta Dental of Tennessee and BlueCare of Tennessee to provide health screenings and emphasize the importance of healthy reading and living habits. Free meals were also provided to families visiting the buses in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and other summer program providers.

ARC Funding (distributed through GBBF) accounted for roughly 20-30% of the estimated start-up costs of each summer mobile literacy unit. The remaining funds were raised locally from businesses, civic clubs, individuals, and the school system. In-kind contributions of materials and labor and the bus, through the school system, were also vital to the success of this program. The community investment, sparked by the ARC/GBBF partnership opportunity and initial funding amount strengthened the success of the program and contributed to the incredible results outlined below.

Community Impact

Through the East Tennessee SHARE Partnership, GBBF and school system leaders addressed the lack of parental engagement by bringing literature and reading activities directly to communities and homes. First year results by school system include:  

Carter County Schools – Carter County Schools R.E.A.D.S. Bus 

Visits to the Book Bus 722
Books Distributed  722
Meals Served 722
Weeks Operated  4
Communities Served  9

Elizabethton City Schools – “Betsy Book Bus”

Visits to the Book Bus 839
Books Distributed  2147
Meals Served 839
Weeks Operated  4
Communities Served  9

Unicoi County Schools – “Aspire Book Bus”

Visits to the Book Bus 444
Books Distributed  419
Meals Served  421
Weeks Operated  4
Communities Served  10

Project Funding

Appalachian Regional Commission (staffing, materials, supplies)  $15,000
Local Partners Cash Contributions (businesses, civic clubs, individuals) $20,800
Local School System In-Kind Contributions (staffing, materials, labor, buses)  $41,696
Total $77,496

Project Partners and Leaders

Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation –Community Engagement Director– Project Contact
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
Appalachian Regional Commission
First Tennessee Development District
Elizabethton City Schools
Carter County Schools,
Unicoi County Schools
Tennessee College of Applied Technology Elizabethton,
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee
Niswonger Foundation 
Milligan College
Carter County Bank
Northeast Community Credit Union
Academy Sports + Outdoors
Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce

For more project information visit the Governors Books From Birth Foundation.

Tennessee Appalachian Regional Commissions Programs

The mission of the Appalachian Regional Commission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia. ARC supports a variety of activities to promote entrepreneurship and business development in the Appalachian Region. These activities help diversify the Region's economic base, develop and market strategic assets, increase the competitiveness of existing businesses, foster the development and use of innovative technologies, and enhance entrepreneurial activity. Through ARC funding, TNECD is able to award grants each year for economic and community development projects in the 52 counties in middle and east Tennessee served by the ARC. 

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.