Boyd County, KY, is located in the foothills of the Appalachians, along the banks of the Ohio River. It is a rural community, home to less than 50,000 people. But Bill Burch, chair of the local First Book volunteer chapter – known as an Advisory Board – has managed to get thousands of books into the hands of area children in need, and raise the funds to do it locally.
“I understand the impact of reading,” said Burch. “How important it is to children, how important it is for them to have books in their homes.”
The Boyd County Advisory Board has raised over $75,000 since it was founded in 2004 with Burch’s help. Burch estimates they have served around 900 local children since then. Most children who participate in the program receive an average of six books each year.
“The First Book program here in Boyd County has had a tremendous impact,” he said. “I say this all the time, but the only behavioral measure that correlates significantly with reading success is how many books the children have in their homes.”
The challenges of running a charitable organization in a place like Boyd County are not insignificant, said Burch, who spent 32 years as a teacher, principal and coach in local public schools. The unemployment rate is high, many people lack a high school education, and prescription drug abuse has “hit particularly hard”.
But the job needs doing, and it can be done. Members of the Boyd County Advisory Board (there are 24 members, including several high school students) have helped other rural areas start Advisory Boards of their own – Greenup and Carter County in Kentucky, and Huntington in West Virginia.
“Most rural areas think they can’t generate money, but they can,” Burch said. People are willing to help out when it comes to getting books into the hands of at-risk children, he has learned.
“I’d be willing to help anyone who wants to start a board,” Burch said. “I’ll tell them how we do it.”
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