The Magic Of Books Comes Alive For Kids

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
First United Methodist Church of Warsaw (FUMC) is one of the organizations that help serve the needs of people in Benton County, and its latest venture is to supply free books to Warsaw students in Early Childhood Education, Prekindergarten and Kindergarten. It began the program in October, and plans to continue it in future school years.
“We are sending adult story readers to South and North Elementary Schools one week a month, and delivering free books for those in the early elementary grades,” said Rev. Loren Whetsell, pastor of FUMC.  “We presently have 16 adult readers, and by the end of the school year we plan to have delivered a total of 2,000 books.
Rev. Whetsell said that this reading program is part of the Missouri Methodist Conference’s Pathway Out of Poverty project. The goal of the project is to connect 100,000 students with 100,000 books by the end of 2020. 
“Research has found that literacy and education are key factors for a pathway out of poverty,” said Rev. Whetsell. “I have always been interested in having partnerships between schools and church, and I have thought about this reading program for two years. Other churches in the area do not do this particular project. Our hope is that this will be a step toward breaking literacy cycles that keep children in poverty.”
The leadership of FUMC made a commitment to the reading program, whether or not any grants were available to help with the cost. FUMC spends about $500 a month on the program, and was fortunate to receive a grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for $500 to help with expenses. On the grant application FUMC reported: “According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 64 percent of families whose incomes were at or above the poverty level read to their preschoolers on a daily basis.” Low income families were reported to have a lower percentage of those who read to children. 
“The reality is that 30.1 percent of children ages 5 years and younger in Benton County live in families where income falls below the poverty line,” said Rev. Whetsell. “Benton County families with children under 18 have half the income of their peers around the state.”
Rev. Whetsell said that he had heard positive comments about the reading program from teachers and principals, and he said that Jared Wallace, principal of South Elementary appreciated the fact that FUMC had no agenda other than to provide the appropriate Scholastic books to children.
“I am really appreciative of the program and excited to get books in children’s hands,” said Wallace.
FUMC gave Parents as Teachers $200 for books last school year. And, for the past three years,   has also hosted “Soup and More Community Kitchen” to provide a free meal and social activities for those in need. It also provides $4,000 annually in fuel and food vouchers for those in need in the community.