What can a bookcase and 10 books do for a child?
For Paul Thiebaut III, the CEO and founder of 10 Books A Home (10BH), an East Palo Alto-based nonprofit that provides free in-home tutoring, the investment in early education will place children, especially those from disadvantaged communities, on a path to be successful students and well-rounded human beings.
The nonprofit provides 100 low-income families in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park with one hour of free tutoring a week for two years in exchange for parent involvement -- parents are required to read with their children five days a week, keep a reading log, sit in on all lessons and help with homework.
The nonprofit is funded through private donations and grants, including a $7,500 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund.
During the lessons, volunteers (called "role models" by the nonprofit) help the children, ages 3 to 5 years old, learn numbers, letters, shapes, colors and model active reading for parents. Each child is also given a bookcase and 10 books at the beginning of the program and then two more books every month to keep.
"We like to shower the kids with gifts right off the bat, so that they know they are the most important thing that that (volunteer) is there for," Thiebaut said.
"It's pretty amazing the transformation that goes on," he said, adding that parents have reported their children start to replace toys and TV time with books and learning toys after three or four months.
On a recent Saturday morning in an east Menlo Park home, 3-year-old Brian Hernandez, an exuberant child with a love for Spider-Man and Play-Doh, flips through a book about trains and points at the illustrations with his Role Model Maria Gonzalez.
Brian has been a part of 10BH for only three months, but Gonzalez has already seen the positive impact.
"At the beginning he would be with me a little and then run and do other things, but now he sits through the entire lesson," she said. "It's amazing the changes I've seen especially in language because he's bilingual, but now I see him answering in English, so that's been huge."
Lessons are different each week but incorporate playing, Gonzalez said, adding that the underlying theme is learning. For example, the two will play with a ball but they will also count numbers or recite the alphabet while throwing it around.
"He doesn't know it but he's learning," she said. "We're playing but we're doing some type of skill that I want him to get down."
Brian's mom, Veronica Torres, said she feels blessed to be a part of 10BH.
"There aren't a lot of programs like this that is free, and I wouldn't know what I'd do without the program because he's learned a lot," Torres said. "Maria always brings books, so I always read to him and he's learning. I've learned that he loves certain things that I thought he wouldn't like."
Brian enjoys putting puzzles together, which allows him to solve problems and develop patience. He also likes "color cutting," in which he uses scissors to cut out pictures from a magazine and group them by color.
Gonzalez, who is from Venezuela and has children who are bilingual, said she understands the difficulties families with bilingual children face and the importance of giving kids a chance to learn skills like reading and writing.
"My goal is for him to be ready for kindergarten and excel and be able to communicate, because not being able to communicate creates frustration," she said. "He's doing amazing, and I'm so proud him."
The sentiment rings true for volunteer Victoria Shoemaker who got involved with 10BH because she was looking for an opportunity to work with children.
"Bridging the gap for those who are not native English speakers and being able to help them get the most out of kindergarten sounded like a great idea," she said.
Shoemaker was paired with 3-year-old Mateo Moreno of East Palo Alto, who at first didn't recognize letters and couldn't write or count.
The two quickly built a connection, and Shoemaker discovered what Mateo enjoyed learning the most and prepared learning activities centered on those things.
"I had a lesson on Friday with him, and you forget how much progress he's made," she said. "We were reading books about Thanksgiving and what other kids are thankful for and what he was thankful for, and we decided to make name cards for his family."
Shoemaker thought they were just going to make a few name cards, but the two ended up making 20.
"He was really excited to be an integral part of Thanksgiving and contributing with the name cards," she said. "He was just so focused. It was great to see him working so hard to try to replicate the shapes of the letters."
Shoemaker said she has gotten more out of the program than she puts into it, adding that she enjoys the engagement and feels honored to be invited into Mateo's home.
"I'm watching him grow. I had no specific goal, but he's just a little sponge, he picks up everything and he always surprises me with the things he's learned," she said, describing how amazed she was during a lesson using flashcards to learn English, when Mateo only missing two out of the more than 100 flashcards she showed him.
"I'm really excited for him. ... I can't imagine that he won't be a great addition to the kindergarten class," Shoemaker said.
These are the many inspiring stories that come out of 10BH, Thiebaut said.
"This is just a sample of our kids," he said gesturing to a wall behind him with dozens of photos of smiling program participants and their families. "They all go through some sort of a profound transformation, and I think it's because of the love that the role models bring into the homes and that bond they build with the children, and the bond that they model for the parent that the parent can build with the child, and all around really simple learning activities that are beneficial to the children's school readiness."
Thiebaut said 10BH's mission is to give the children in East Palo Alto, which has a high school drop-out rate of 60 percent, "a fair shot at success."
"I think (success) starts in the home and involves education. And as a high school drop-out myself and someone who grew up in the Bay Area with friends in East Palo Alto ... and also someone who went back to school and got his college education, I know both sides of the coin. I know how important education is and it's never too late, but the earlier you start, the better," he said.
10BH was created to give children educational opportunities that in many instances would only be afforded to them if their parents could pay for it, Thiebaut said.
"The opportunities are boundless here, and unfortunately for the last 20 years, children growing up in East Palo Alto have not been able to take advantage of them and that irked me and resulted in me deciding to found 10 Books A Home."
One hundred percent of former program participants completed kindergarten in 2014 at or above grade level and 6 percent of current Ravenswood City School District kindergartens have been served by 10BH, he said.
"I see 10 Books A Home as a potential contributor to raising children's chances of doing well in school and ultimately having a fair shot at doing something with their lives that they enjoy," Thiebaut said.
Donations to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund can be made at the Holiday Fund here.