In his work with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Richard Nix saw firsthand the realities of life among people in need.
One Sunday at Mass at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church, he watched as two families in front of him interacted in a loving way with their toddler children. He recalled one of the children with a book in the pew and how he read aloud the word “truck.”
He thought about the families in poverty that he’s served and the importance of beginning that bond between parent and child from an early age. The idea transformed into bonding through books.
“I’ve always believed you’ve got to have a strong foundation,” said Nix. “When we need to start reading is when they’re newborns, not when they’re six months old. We’ve got to be early.”
Thus began Books for Newborns. The nonprofit organization was started a year-and-a-half ago by Nix and several others who wanted to address the connection between illiteracy and poverty. Data from the Rauch Foundation shows that 85-90 percent of brain development takes place from birth to age 5. There also is a high correlation between children who live in poverty and lack of reading material in the home.
Books for Newborns provides low-income mothers with a free tote bag filled with four new books, each appropriate for different young age groups, and information on how to bond and better engage with their babies. The organization works with social workers at area hospitals and other organizations to distribute the books. Since January 2017, more than 1,800 bags have been distributed to moms and their babies.
Nix stressed that the effort is more than just putting free books into the hands of low-income families. The goal is to help each family establish what he describes as a “preschool,” meaning that mothers are given tools to better bond with their babies and improve their own literacy skills — which in turn has an impact on family life, including the relationship among siblings.
Renee Stout, who volunteers as the organization’s development director, recalled years ago visiting a maternity home, where she saw several babies propped up against the wall with a bottle in hand. “I couldn’t fathom not holding your baby and feeding your baby,” she said.
The maternity home’s executive director picked up one of the babies and began talking to her. “It was a real teaching moment,” Stout said. “She said, ‘It’s very important you hold your baby and talk to your baby, so the baby can feel you and hear you.’ This is another element to teach mothers — and it’s not through any fault of their own. They weren’t shown this.”
Nix said God has played a “big part” in making the organization come together, including receiving gratis many of the services needed to operate — storage space, legal work, computers, and so on. Books for Newborns relies totally upon donations.
Nix said he also is hopeful that the program will lead to a more long-term social change, which he recognizes won’t happen overnight.
“The reason we have children shooting people is that they’re looking for attention, and unfortunately they never got it when they needed it — and that started when they were babies,” he said. “It’s not going to come overnight. But the change is that we could stop the pipeline — stop feeding these children to the streets, to gangs, to drugs, to crime, to prisons.”
>> Books for Newborns
CONTACT: [email protected] or (314) 827-7307
DONATE: A donation of $15 will provide a newborn with a tote bag filled with four new books and tips for parents on bonding with their child. Donations can be made at paypal.me/booksfornewbornsSTL or mailed to Books for Newborns, 932 Glenmoor Ave., St. Louis MO 63122