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Flint, MI—Volunteers for Empower, a local non-profit that educates and mentors youth, delivered boxes full of food, books and educational materials to over 500 Flint families earlier this week.
Danielle Green, founder of Empower, author, and member of the Flint Schools Board of Education, launched the program, Nutrition + Literacy = Success, last month. The organization plans do a second round of deliveries on Dec. 11.
Green said she started Empower in 2010 as a prom dress donation closet, but it has since morphed to “fill the gaps” in the community.
“A lot of people are doing the same things all the time. They have the same programs; my programs switch up depending on the needs of the community,” she said.
Good nutrition and reading skills are two of the greatest needs facing Flint youth right now, Green said.
Nearly 9,000 children under the age of six were exposed to high levels of lead during the Flint water crisis. Lead poisoning is known to have life-altering effects on young children, including developmental delays, learning difficulties and lower IQs.
After the crisis, third-grade reading levels dropped by 75% in Flint and Genesee County and research shows that this is a critical time period in a child’s life: students who lack reading proficiency in third grade are four times as likely not to complete high school as students who are proficient.
The boxes help tackle these challenges, Green said, with foods rich in iron, vitamin C, and calcium that help reduce lead absorption in the body. The boxes also contain educational materials like reading logs, literacy statistics, and the book “How to Raise a Reader” by Maria Russo and Pamela Paul.
Green also included her own “Hey Girl” children’s book series, which feature girls of all colors and races.
“Kids need characters that represent them and represent all kids interacting with each other. It’s very, very important. I hate to see books with all kids that look alike. That’s not reality, right? Kids need to be seen in positive situations interacting with other kids that don’t look like them,” Green said.
Her “Hey Girl” books contain wordsearches and coloring pages that build literacy skills.
“We don’t want to make [reading] look like a chore. We want it to include it in the fun part of learning,” she said.
The boxes were funded through a $35,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Initiative.