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Spotlight: Bringing books to children living in the poorest colonia of the nation

LatinaLista — Along the Texas-Mexico border, there lies Starr County, Texas. It is one of the poorest counties in the nation with a population of about 62,000 — 97 percent Latino. The U.S. Census reports that only 35 percent of the people have a high school diploma and less than seven percent have a college degree.


Starr County has the third-lowest per capita income in the country. Fifty-one percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and in 2008, about 37 percent of the population was comprised of children. No doubt, the number of children has increased since then.

With poverty such an overwhelming part of life in Starr County, things such as books are luxury items. That’s a shame for all the children who would enjoy using their imaginations to escape into worlds rich with excitement.

One Texas woman wants to help the children of Starr County experience those kinds of adventures and has created Starr Readers.

Karen Furlong lives in Farmers Branch, Texas and when she was a child she used to spend her vacations in Starr County visiting her grandparents. Five years ago she returned and she saw the need for children living in the colonias of Starr County, areas that usually lack sewer service, little access to health care and are home to underfunded schools, a way to escape their poor surroundings.

What better way than through reading?

Reading a book not only allows children to use their imaginations and forget where they live but it raises their reading scores and could help them stay motivated to stay in school, finish high school and go on to college.

So, for the past few years, Karen and her family have taken it upon themselves to raise money to buy the books to take to Rio Grande City, the seat of Starr County and distribute them to libraries. Last year, she was able to buy 600 books.

This year, Scholastic is partnering with her and she will be able to buy about 3,000 new books due to Scholatic’s deep discounts to her, but she has more ambitious plans: She wants to give every child through 4th grade their own copy of a book targeting their age group — that’s going to be more than 3,000 books.

And she wants to buy more books by Pura Belpré Award winners — Latina/o writers and illustrators whose work celebrates Latino culture.

But that’s not all. The more book donations and funds she raises gets her closer to her goal of qualifying as a non-profit.

Karen and her family use their own money to rent the trucks and pay for the gas to take the books down to Rio Grande City in Starr County a week before Christmas. All she needs is help to buy the books.

To help make Christmas a little brighter for some of the poorest children in the country, visit Starr Readers, read this year’s Donation Letter and see what it takes to create a new ending for some lives that are less than storybook perfect.


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