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Historic Effort to Increase Childhood Literacy Announced

Donohue, Harmon, Hendricks, Spang

The Burlington County College (BCC) First Book Initiative that delivered more than 40,000 free, high-quality books to children in need last year, will expand to Mercer County in partnership with Mercer County Community College (MCCC), the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

The expansion is possible because of support from New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks who hopes to spread the project throughout the state to promote literacy among children in need.

“I am delighted that higher education is playing a crucial role in building the literacy skills of disadvantaged children in New Jersey,” said Secretary Hendricks. “By working with First Book and the African American Chamber of Commerce, college students who distribute the books will learn job skills and the benefits of civic engagement. This can be the start of a lasting educational experience – for the students who receive the books and for the college students who will know that they have touched the life of a child in need.”

Last year, BCC distributed more than 43,000 books worth $400,000 to 50 community organizations that serve children in need – including 13,000 books to children at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

More than 350 volunteer staff, faculty, students, alumni and community members participated in the project that was also supported by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, First Book, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving educational opportunities for children in need, and Fulton Bank.

“A child’s first book can foster a love of learning that lasts a lifetime,” BCC Interim President Dr. David Spang said. “Burlington County College’s First Book Initiative was an enormously rewarding success and we are excited to join with our colleagues at Mercer County Community College to spread this incredibly important project even further.”

With financial support from the New Jersey Office of Higher Education, both colleges will split a truckload of 40,000 books to distribute among eligible organizations in their community. Organizations serving children whose families meet certain income, disability or military criteria, are deemed eligible by the First Book organization. Organizations interested in applying must do so by Friday, Jan. 30. Information is available at bcc.edu/firstbook.

“The path to life-long learning begins early, and First Book establishes a clear direction that will enable area children to pursue that goal,” MCCC President Dr. Patricia C. Donohue said. “We are grateful for the leadership of Secretary Hendricks, the New Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce, and Burlington County College in a partnership that expands this exciting opportunity to Mercer County.”

The First Book initiative was first proposed by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey as part of its education initiative called “Making New Jersey More Competitive.” The chamber’s President and CEO John E. Harmon, Sr., IOM, is a graduate of MCCC, holds an honorary degree from BCC, and serves on the national First Book Board of Directors.                                      

“This is a very special opportunity that unites several quality organizations to transform the lives of young people and place them on a path to success. Expanding this program into Mercer County will double the enormous impact we achieved last year,” Harmon said.

The books will be delivered to BCC for sorting and distribution during spring break March 16 to March 30. For a video recap of last year’s distribution, please visit BCC’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/BurlingtonCoCollege.

Pictured, L to R: Mercer County Community College President Dr. Patricia C. Donohue, African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey President and CEO John E. Harmon, Sr., IOM, New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks, and Burlington County College Interim President Dr. David Spang announce this year’s expansion of the First Book Initiative, a program that promotes literacy among children in need.