In March, a group of women passionate about reading will give away 20,000 brand-new books to Bakersfield area schools, after-school programs, and community programs serving students from low-income families and Title I schools. For many of the students, these will be the first new books they will have ever owned. This is a big deal!

In 2013, Kern County was named “The Most Illiterate County in America,” and according to Time Magazine, Bakersfield was the worst city in the U.S. for its overall reading culture. This was in large part because there wasn’t easy access to bookstores, and the library system had low circulation rates and was understaffed.

Access to books is central to reversing these trends. If children have access to books, their interest in reading grows as well as their increased desire to learn. Readers become leaders, and we know reading is the foundation of all we can achieve in life.

On March 3, my Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women sisters and I will distribute 20,000 books to kids in need at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. We will be carrying and sorting books and facilitating interactive children’s activities, including story time. Help us build for the future. We can — and we must — do better for the children of Bakersfield.

Ann E. Beman, Kernville