BILOXI, Miss. - Surrounded by smiling second- and third-graders, legendary actor James Earl Jones spread a little holiday joy and shared his love of reading with children at the newly re-opened Gorenflo Elementary School Tuesday (Dec. 19). The school was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina last year.
A group of 40 students listened and dozens of parents and teachers looked on as Jones, who is a Mississippi native, and the children took turns reading aloud a popular book for children, "Clifford's Family." The reading was part of Verizon's Seasons' Readings, the company's annual employee-giving campaign that, this year, is aimed at children in the Gulf Coast region.
Over the next few weeks, the Verizon Foundation, Verizon employees and Scholastic, the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, will donate more than 40,000 "comfort kits" to children throughout the Gulf Coast. The kits, entitled Scholastic My Time: A Box for Comfort and JoyTM, contain books, magazines and art therapy tools that can be used by parents, school officials and community members to help children overcome stress and anxiety.
"I believe the students will love the content of the kit and really enjoy reading the books and writing in the journal, but more than that, they know that people still love and are concerned about us," said Gorenflo Principal Tina Thompson.
Thompson said the school, which opened in 2004 and has about 160 students, was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005. Six feet of water flooded the one-story building. After being rebuilt, the school reopened on Dec. 4.
Scholastic developed the comfort kit with assistance from child development and mental health experts. According to a recent Louisiana State University study, 49 percent of children in grades 4 and above who experienced trauma as a result of the hurricanes require psychological assistance.
"A tremendous rebuilding effort is well under way in the Gulf Coast, and we know much more needs to be done," Verizon National Director of Volunteer Activities Jayne Mayer told those assembled at the school. "But we also know that rebuilding a community takes more than bricks. We hope our gift will bring a little comfort and joy to the children of the Gulf Coast."
The Verizon Foundation purchased 20,000 of the comfort kits, which will be distributed to the children by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) and local partners, such as the Mississippi Hurricane Fund. Scholastic also donated 20,000 kits, which will be distributed through Volunteers of America, a national nonprofit organization.
"To acquire the literacy skills needed to succeed in life, children must first feel safe and supported," said Emily Kirkpatrick, senior director at NCFL. "This campaign champions not only the cause of literacy but tangible resources for reading and healing for Gulf Coast families."
The number of donated kits is expected to grow as Verizon employees purchase additional kits through the company's 6th annual Season's Readings campaign, titled Reading and Healing. Season's Readings is Verizon's annual employee-giving campaign in support of literacy, which has donated more than 1.8 million books to children and adults throughout the country during the past five years.
"Many children living in the Gulf Coast are still grappling with the long-term effects caused by last year's devastating hurricane season and the disruption of their lives," said Dave Devilbiss, director of business development for Scholastic Book Fairs. "Scholastic understands the need to provide ongoing support and resources for these children and families. Scholastic My Time is designed to help the storms' youngest victims find hope and remember that they have not been forgotten."
Verizon delivers technology that touches life. The Verizon Foundation uses that technology and its financial resources to improve literacy and K-12 education; help families victimized by domestic violence; and improve the delivery of health care. In 2005, the foundation awarded more than $74 million in grants to charitable and nonprofit agencies in the United States and abroad. The foundation also supports Verizon Volunteers, which is one of the largest employee volunteer programs in the United States and responsible for 2 million hours of community service since 2000 and $35.6 million in combined contributions to nonprofits in 2005 alone.
For more information on the foundation, visit www.verizon.com/foundation.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), a New York-based Dow 30 company, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving nearly 57 million customers nationwide. Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which operates one of the most expansive wholly-owned global IP networks, and Verizon Telecom, which is deploying the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network to deliver the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services to customers. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.
National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) is the worldwide leader in family literacy, an intergenerational approach to help families escape poverty through education. More than 1 million families have made positive educational and economic gains as a result of NCFL's work, which includes training more than 150,000 teachers and thousands of volunteers. Educators, policymakers and philanthropists rely on NCFL to mobilize family literacy efforts, conduct research and develop new, effective tools to leverage the learning relationship between parents and children. Visit www.famlit.org to learn more, make a donation, locate a literacy program in your area or find out how to become a volunteer.
Scholastic Corporation (NASDAQ: SCHL) is the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books and a leader in educational technology. Scholastic creates quality educational and entertaining materials and products for use in school and at home, including children's books, magazines, technology-based products, teacher materials, television programming, film, videos and toys. The Company distributes its products and services through a variety of channels, including proprietary school-based book clubs, school-based book fairs, and school-based and direct-to-home continuity programs; retail stores, schools, libraries and television networks; and the Company's Internet site, www.scholastic.com.