PEF, AFT deliver the First Book program to young children in Rochester
BY DEBORAH A. MILES
Far too often, children and teenagers who are placed in a juvenile justice facility by a court didn’t have the advantage or perhaps desire, to just sit down and read a book.
In Rochester, these youth now have that opportunity due to a national program called First Book, which partnered with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and PEF.
In early March, 27 PEF members sorted and labeled books that were later placed at the library at Industry Residential Center and at the Rochester Multi-Community Services Office, operated by the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS).
Luz Gonzalez is a youth counselor 1, and council leader of PEF Division 216, and works for the OCFS Division of Juvenile Justice.
“At Industry, there is a library where the children can take out books and return them. They receive all their services on site,” Gonzalez said. “When young people are transferred back into the community from other facilities, they go through the Multi-Community Services Office. When they come through our office, they are either going home or placed in the care of a relative.
“Here they can get a book off the shelf and keep it. For a young person leaving a facility and not having anything, it gives them something of their own.”
“Providing services is really important to our PEF members,” said PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio. “The books are for the youth that our members serve. Along with helping to broaden the horizons of these kids through reading, the First Book event was an opportunity for our members to work together around an issue that strikes a chord with them.”
“This program is important because it promotes reading for our youth at facilities and for their families at the aftercare level,” said Kristine Kelly, a teacher 4 at Industry Residential Center. “We all have a common goal of providing the means to help our youth understand the importance of reading for pleasure. Many of our youth feel reading is about homework or school. They don’t realize that reading can enhance your vocabulary and comprehension. It promotes imagination and an understanding of faraway places and people.”
PEF Region 3 Coordinator Colleen Williams added, “PEF members throughout the state are dedicated to community service. We advocate for ourselves so that we can provide the services that our communities need.
“The First Book program is an excellent example of this. We know, firsthand, what the young people receiving services from OCFS need to thrive. Education, reading and writing are among the most important tools we can offer them. I’m proud that PEF and AFT have made these donations possible.”
Rochester was the second location for PEF and AFT to launch a First Book program. In mid-December, the two unions provided books for the young children who visit an inmate at Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie.