By Janelle Ward
Atlanta Habitat for Humanity is partnering with Worldreader, a global youth literacy nonprofit, to motivate families to develop an appreciation for reading while working toward achieving homeownership.
Worldreader has partnered with several organizations in the past, including the Bezos Family Foundation and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The nonprofit’s work with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity helps families earn the chance to receive a new house in exchange for reading books.
Worldreader is a nonprofit organization focused specifically on improving youth literacy through increasing children’s access to books. The organization began in Africa in 2010 as an effort to remedy the harmful effects of book deserts in developing countries with lackluster education. Book deserts, by definition, are geographic locations where access to books and other reading materials are significantly limited. The nonprofit expanded its efforts to the United States two years ago and has since impacted the literacy habits of children in a total of 48 countries around the world.
Atlanta Habitat for Humanity has helped house thousands of families since first opening its doors in 1983, and is now, according to its website, the largest nonprofit developer of single-family homes in the city.
The partnership allows children between the ages of 3 and 12 and their family members to read age- and grade-appropriate books using Worldreader’s digital library application, BookSmart. Participants download the app onto a mobile device, and read books in order to earn “sweat equity hours.”
As a rule of thumb, Habitat for Humanity requires its future homeowners complete 250 sweat equity hours before moving into their new house. The organization’s website lists eight ways in which homeowners can earn sweat equity hours, including working at a nearby reStore location and helping build new homes for themselves or other clients. Worldreader’s literacy campaign provides another way for Atlanta Habitat for Humanity clients to inch closer to achieving their goal of homeownership.
Jacolvy Garcia, education manager at Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, said earning sweat equity hours allows clients to complete each phase of the home owning process, from beginning the program, to viewing properties, to eventually closing on a home. Garcia also said clients must complete 20 hours of training courses covering subjects related to homeownership before moving into their new house.
Worldreader makes the digital reading process simple and efficient for BookSmart’s users. Kristen Walter, Worldreader’s director of U.S. programs, said BookSmart doesn’t require users to make an account to access the app’s books or to work on activities. This eliminates the need for users to disclose their personal contact information to the organization, and makes the app’s features accessible even to those lacking email addresses or adequate Internet access. Users are granted full access to all of the BookSmart app’s content, which includes over 1,400 books separated by age group and genre. Worldreader provides digital books written in English, Spanish, Arabic and Central Kurdish.
Although Worldreader partnered with Habitat for Humanity to modify their sweat equity program, the BookSmart application is available to the general public for free, as well. The nonprofit’s employees add new books to the app regularly, prioritizing racially, culturally and regionally diverse stories that represent a large demographic of kids all over the world. Staff members thoroughly vet books before uploading digital copies to the app, determining whether the books are age-appropriate, have academic relevance and are capable of engaging and entertaining young readers for long periods of time.
“We don’t tailor to specific regions in the United States,” Walter said. “We look at books that are going to represent all children.”
Worldreader also equips the BookSmart app with reading challenges that correspond with select books, giving child and adult users the chance to test and improve their reading comprehension skills by answering questions about the books they read. The activities also contribute to Habitat for Humanity’s sweat equity hour campaign. Completing three books and any corresponding activities within a week could earn a family five sweat equity hours.
Walter said a partnership with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity was mutually beneficial because the two organizations share similar missions and are both passionate about improving the wellbeing of families.
“[Atlanta Habitat for Humanity’s] vision is ‘everyone deserves housing.’ Our vision is ‘Readers build a better world.’” Walter said. “There’s alignment in our missions.”
Garcia said working with Worldreader has allowed Atlanta Habitat for Humanity to reach a new demographic of clients in the students that the BookSmart app primarily caters to.
“[Worldreader’s] services target a population that we are not specialized in,” Garcia said. “And we were already looking for support for that age group.”
Worldreader’s collaboration with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity also exposes children to additional learning opportunities outside of the classroom. A case study from the nonprofit about the Habitat for Humanity partnership states that a child’s love and appreciation for reading is usually instilled solely within schools.
The pandemic, however, negatively impacted the reading and critical thinking skills of kids all around the world, as students abruptly switched from a mostly in-person learning experience to a predominately online or hybrid format. Worldreader hopes to catch young readers up to speed by giving them access to a wide variety of books that pique their interests and motivate them to value reading as an activity.
Atlanta Habitat for Humanity and Worldreader have short- and long-term goals they aimed to accomplish through their partnership. According to Worldreader’s case study, the nonprofit plans to change students’ reading habits at home by offering them more opportunities to read outside school hours. For example, Walter said the company aims to decrease students’ television and video game usage, encouraging kids to opt to read in their spare time instead. In doing so, Worldreader also hopes to motivate more families to rely on reading as a pastime and as a way to bond and connect with each other.
“This season can be stressful for people, and reading can be a great coping mechanism,” Walter said. “So, in giving that gift of a self-soothing and self-coping mechanism, reading as an individual activity on BookSmart now becomes a family activity, with wider engagement and wider conversation with the people in your house.”
Garcia said he hopes the partnership will have a positive effect on the greater Atlanta community by giving those on the brink of homelessness or houselessness a chance to improve their literacy skills while working toward their goal of homeownership.
“I hope the partnership combats the many gaps we have in our community,” Garcia said. “This includes gaps in literacy, homelessness, wages, education, access to resources and much more. All of these items start with literacy.”
Access BookSmart on any mobile device by downloading Worldreader’s app, or by logging on to booksmart.worldreader.org/.
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