Paul Thiebaut had trouble with school when he was a student. It was noticeable in grade school and carried into young adulthood, when he dropped out of high school.
"Reading was something I hated. But in my early 20s, I had one literate friend who challenged me to read, so I started reading.
"It swept me off my feet, invigorated my soul and my mind," he said.
Thiebaut decided to share the gift his friend gave him with East Palo Alto children.
In 2009 he founded the nonprofit organization 10 Books a Home, designed to help children and their parents discover the world of reading.
The organization offers two types of free literacy services: in-school and in-home.
Trained volunteers visit preschools in East Palo Alto and read to the children during the half-hour "story time" once a month. Volunteers are currently reading to more than 620 toddlers, infants and preschoolers, Thiebaut said.
The volunteers also donate the books to the preschools, allowing children to read them personally. Thiebaut hopes to increase the visits to twice monthly and expand the age group to include children from kindergarten to third grade.
10 Books serves 29 classrooms in six East Palo Alto schools the Ravenswood Child Development Center, Creative Montessori Learning Center, Family Connections, East Palo Alto Head Start, Magnolia Head Start and Laurel Head Start.
Through the in-home program, East Palo Alto families can call-in or e-mail the nonprofit and order 10 books to be delivered to their homes.
10 Books a Home then undertakes a needs assessment, which determines the type of books the child will receive, taking into consideration age, gender and interests, Thiebaut said.
Volunteer tutors go to families' homes and give free half-hour reading lessons twice a month. They interact closely with parents, advising them on tactics to improve their children's reading ability.
Students up to 12th grade are eligible to receive tutoring.
10 Books a Home was created in response to low reading scores and a reading achievement gap in the Ravenswood City School District, Thiebaut said.
"There are many factors that go into a child's life, and it's important to start active literacy training at an early age so that they do well later on," Thiebaut said.
Even babies can benefit from the program, he said.
"We read and speak to them on subjects such as shapes, colors, numbers and stimulating things they see in their immediate environment," Thiebaut said.
10 Books a Home gets its books through donations from businesses and private sources.
"Much support comes from Palo Alto itself, and book and monetary donations are very much welcome," Thiebaut said, noting that the books should be in good condition ranging from gently used to new.
Volunteer tutors age 18 and up are also welcome, he added.
Thiebaut's most urgent need is to move the headquarters, currently located in his home, to a larger space.
"We would appreciate any support that would allow us relocate to a warehouse to operate in so our programs can continue to grow, and so we can come closer to bridging the reading gap in East Palo Alto," he said.
More information is available at 10 Books a Home.