Organization offers free books for families

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published May 7, 2014

 Michigan Friends of Education President and CEO Menachem Kniespeck holds up one of the books his nonprofit organization offers.

Michigan Friends of Education President and CEO Menachem Kniespeck holds up one of the books his nonprofit organization offers.

Photo by Donna Agusti

For generations, books have changed the lives of human beings, creating a new vision of a world they may or may not know. And for most, that imaginative progression lasts a lifetime.

This is precisely why organizations like Michigan Friends of Education, a nonprofit that aims to help the less unfortunate in various endeavors, is currently in the midst of executing an all-out book deal in southeast Michigan.

The Clinton Township-based organization, recognized for its “Operation Kid Equip” program that has focused on school supplies and hygiene items in the tri-county areas for almost nine years running, is putting a new emphasis on literacy.

This particular book-related undertaking kicked off in select areas last October, such as in communities in the northern portion of the state. After getting its feet wet and making sure the program is well-oiled, logistics have now allowed for books to be offered and distributed to families across southeast Michigan.

The goal is to reach a minimum of 300,000 children in metro Detroit and more than 740,000 children across the entire state.

“For the first eight years, it was strictly school supplies and hygiene,” Michigan Friends of Education President and CEO Menachem Kniespeck said. “But now we’re trying to focus on literacy. There are high numbers of third-graders that aren’t reading at grade level. Kids are struggling.

“Families are left to try to buy books, and books are expensive. Even for a family that is not that bad off financially, you can walk into Barnes & Noble and drop 25 or 30 bucks.”

The books, 95 percent of which are brand new and equipped for kids between the preschool and junior high levels, are free and all found online at Families only have to pay for shipping and then wait for the book(s) to arrive in three to five business days.

Families also do not have to disclose income verification in terms of financial standing.

“We receive chapter books. We also received leveled readers meant to help kids strengthen their reading, so a kid who’s struggling reading, it’s meant to help them grow in their fluency,” Kniespeck said. “We have found that about 80 percent of our parents come back and place another order. They’re allowed to place two orders a month, and about 14-20 books per order.”

He said that most teachers are aware of the MFE’s initiatives, including this newer book program. The organization and the educators are on the same page in terms of getting kids to learn to love to read, aiming to set a precedent that learning can be fun and lead to a life of curiosity.

Literacy, Kniespeck said, also helps curb such things as high school dropout rates and criminal activity. He said that even reluctant children just need one book to help them get on the fast track toward a love of reading.

“(This is) something I always wanted to do, to help serve kids and promote their literacy,” he said. “When we look at things, like our students’ current MEAP scores, kids are struggling with reading. Now we have a variety of research out there, that getting a kid into a fourth-grade reading level, you can almost break the cycle of criminal behavior.

“My passion is to generate a love of reading, and in order to generate a love of reading, you have to have books.”