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MCCC Distributes Thousands of ‘First Books’ to Schools and Community Organizations in Mercer County


Trenton, N.J. – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) turned a new page during Spring Break as volunteers rolled up their sleeves to participate in First Book, a national initiative that seeks to provide new high-quality books to schools and county organizations that serve preschoolers through 12th graders.  By the end of the week of March 20, close to 30,000 books were either delivered or picked up from MCCC's Trenton Campus, with 59 local schools and community organizations benefiting from the program.

MCCC joins Burlington County College (BCC), which launched the program in New Jersey last year, after three years of planning by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and N.J. Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks.

According to Monica Weaver, Provost at the Trenton Campus, approximately 50 volunteers participated in the project, including MCCC college students, Student Government representatives, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society students and members of Youth Corps. The volunteers first spent a day at BCC, where they were trained by volunteer librarians who shared their expertise in sorting the books for various age groups.  Once the books arrived in Trenton, the students were there to continue the process of sorting and boxing them for pick-up.

The volunteers got much deserved thanks throughout the first day of pick-up, including from Trenton Schools Superintendent Francisco Duran.  “Students come to us not having opportunities," he told the group.  "That starts in their pre-school years.  First Book is helping to close the opportunity gap. It’s another example of a great partnership with Mercer County Community College.”  The Trenton School District was the largest recipient of books, with approximately 22,000 delivered to the district on March 18.

One of the volunteers’ last steps before they boxed the books was to label them with a “First Book” sticker that asks the book’s new owner to fill in his or her name where it says: ‘This book belongs to.”
That message of ownership resonated with Nwasha Edu, who arrived to pick up books for Very Important People (VIP) Community Learning Centers, an after-school and summer program for Trenton high school students.

“Unfortunately a lot of children do not have their own books at home," Edu said. "It’s great for young people to have a book to take care of.  These are brand new books that they are going to value."

Miriam Lewis, librarian from Parker Elementary School, also spoke of the program’s benefits.  “These books will go home in the hands of our children.  It will be like giving them lollipops and candy.  Thanks to all of you.  What you are doing is wonderful.”

Yvonne Page, who directs the after-school program at the Trenton YMCA, shared that enthusiasm.  “I can’t wait to be able to give out these books to our kids,” she said.

Volunteer Daniel Montero is in his first year at Mercer studying Culinary Arts. “It’s a good way to give back to the community, especially during Spring Break when I’m not as busy,” he said. Student Government Association Secretary Julian Elliott, who is concentrating in political science at MCCC, agreed that promoting reading is a very worthwhile project. "I am happy to be involved. I plan to be here next year as well," he said.

Also acknowledging the volunteers' efforts were MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue and BCC Interim Vice President of Special Projects Beverly Richardson.  Richardson said that First Book’s goal is no less than statewide distribution of books and an eradication of illiteracy.

Since its inception in 1992, First Book has distributed more than 120 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. Its partners include corporations, non-profits and publishers. Among its publishing partners are Random House, Random House Children’s Books, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Disney Publishing Worldwide.

Trenton Schools Superintendent Francisco Duran called the First Book initiative "another example of a great partnership with Mercer County Community College."
Parker Elementary School librarian Miriam Lewis emphasized the value of giving books to young children to inspire reading.
PTK students Ruchika Mukerjee, left, and Casey Lebiedziewicz answered calls and directed traffic in the Trenton Campus's Student Commons.

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Students Daniel Montero, left, and Julian Elliott place First Book stickers on the inside cover of the books before boxing them for pick-up.

From left, Youth Corps volunteer Kyenre Randall, Kids 'R' First staffers Richard Libensperger and Pedro Santos, volunteer Lisandra Concepcion, and MCCC Youth Corps staff member Corvena Francis-Denton.

Labeling and sorting, from left, MCCC staff member Terrence Carter and students Shawn Thorpe and Tonya Watkins.

Mark Powell, right, Executive Director of ANU Beginning Mentoring, picks up his books from Youth Corps' Rashaun Jones and volunteer Ashanti Robinson.

Youth Corps volunteers were all in! Pictured around the table from left are: Shylia Brown, Sandy Sotovando, Lisandra Concepcion, Gissel Feneque, Ashanti Robinson and Alicia Tatarek.

Yvonne Page, right, who directs the after-school program at the Trenton YMCA, said she is excited to give out the books to "her kids."
Youth Corps volunteers with staff and administrators.

Youth Corps volunteers from Phillipsburg, N.J., joined in the effort.