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March 02, 2021

Grassroot giving includes sharing the gift of books

Author: Liza Frenette
Carey Fusco

Albany reading teacher Carey Fusco knows books, cover to cover, inside and out. They are not casual friends. She sees them as lifelines.

Fusco volunteers at Grassroot Givers, a nonprofit organization supporting underserved communities in the Capital District. Fusco’s work with the organization’s literacy initiative helps put books into the hands and homes of children. Fusco, a member of the Albany Public School Teachers Association, helps to sort and label some of the hundreds of books donated to the organization. Using an app, she scans the book and looks it up in a database, which reveals the grade level for that book.

“Books are a resource,” Fusco said. “Stories can connect families, and readers become stronger readers by actually reading. Practice is important outside of school, just like for anything.  The more reading — or practice — that a child does, the better reader they can become. If you don’t have books to practice, then you are at a disadvantage. Grassroot Givers levels this for all children and families to have access to text.”

Fusco also volunteers with the organization’s annual “A Day of Simple Giving” event. For 14 years, that program has brought together thousands of volunteers to make homemade items, sort and fill toiletry kits, prepare soup-in-a-bag kits, and level books — all to the tune of $30,000 worth of goods each year, even this year when it was virtual. Volunteers include other teachers, including APSTA President Laura Franz.

Fusco annually collects books from families, neighbors and friends. “This year I had a carload full,” she said.

Organizer Mary Partridge-Brown said all the books are distributed through the Feed and Read program, with books going into backpacks stocked with food for the weekend.

Fusco’s work identifying the grade level is crucial. “This helps us to know which books to give out to the many teachers and schools we serve in the Albany City School District,” Partridge-Brown said. “Carey has been a friend to Grassroot Givers for years and has helped us in many ways.”

Almost as important as reading itself, Fusco wants students to see themselves in the texts. She draws inspiration from Rudine Sims Bishop, an American researcher for children’s multicultural literature, who said: “Children need books that are mirrors that allow them to see themselves and their own experiences. Windows that they can look through to see identities and experiences different from their own, and sliding glass doors that allow them to enter other worlds.” 

“Grassroot Givers is the community resource that so graciously makes this possible for all,” Fusco said.

Having a diversity of books to provide students is part of her action, both in her role as a reading teacher and a volunteer. Current favorites are The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander and The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson, which is part of an all-school read.

For more information about Grassroot Givers, visit www.grassrootgivers.org.

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