West County READS is an all-volunteer coalition of literacy and library advocates, who promote early childhood literacy. We were founded in 2001, born out of the Community Alliance for Public Education (C.A.P.E.).
From the beginning, West County READS has sought to do three things. The first is to increase awareness among parents of the importance of reading aloud with their children at an early age. second, is to encourage children to read by making reading fun, and third is to dramatically increase access to children’s books.
Early Activities [2001-ongoing]
Early on, West County READS held events at libraries to attract families with young children. “Clifford the Big Red Dog” (a character from a popular children’s book, whose costume was worn many times by one of West County READS’s founding members, Don Delcollo) drew families into libraries for Read-Aloud gatherings and book giveaways. Parents were encouraged to sign up for library cards and reminded of the importance of reading aloud to their children on a daily basis.
West County READS also attended local events at parks, street festivals, and community centers to give away free books, and to reinforce the importance of reading aloud with children as a community priority.
Free Children’s Books [2001-ongoing]
Over the past years, thousands of gently used children’s books have been collected, stored, sorted, and distributed, approximately twelve thousand a year. Grants were also written in order to buy new children’s books and bi-lingual Spanish-English dictionaries. Free children’s books remains a cornerstone of West County READS.
Read Across America [2001-ongoing]
West County READS partnered with Richmond teachers to increase awareness of the annual, nationwide NEA sponsored “Read Across America”, event by publicizing the date and enlisting volunteers to go into schools and read to the kids. March 2015 and 2016, new books were provided to all of the students at Verde Elementary, in Richmond, CA.
West County READS Calendar [2003-2009]
Recognizing the multiple opportunities that West County Libraries offered to families for Read Aloud gatherings and other events, West County READS created an annual events calendar. We held an art contest for kids with the theme “What Reading Means to Me”. From the dozens of entries received, we selected twelve of the best, to be a featured illustration for each month. Literacy and library events were for the year were listed, as well as tips in both English and Spanish, for reading aloud, and a list of literacy-related resources. Six thousand calendars were printed and distributed for free, to daycare centers, nursery schools, Head Start Centers, kindergartens, and libraries, with a focus on low-income communities. The calendar’s joyful art conveyed each child’s relationship with books and love of reading. It also served as a daily reminder to parents of the importance of reading aloud with young kids. This project was funded by Chevron and Target.
Reading on the Bus 
The Bus Project was a partnership between West County READS and the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee. The project was comprised of an ad campaign that promoted the idea of adults and children using their time together on the bus to read. Ads were installed on numerous AC Transit buses and at bus shelters. In addition, families who signed up for library summer reading programs received free bus tickets.
A Community Book 
The creation of the novel for young people, Richmond Tales, Lost Secrets of the Iron Triangle, burgeoned from discussions at West County READS about finding books to appeal to a widely diverse community. West County READS’ board member, Summer Brenner, secured a grant, and in partnership with the West Contra Costa Unified School District and Community Works, wrote the book that was embraced by schools and the community at-large. The popularity of this book inspired the Oakland Unified School District to collaborate with Summer Brenner on Oakland Tales, Lost Tales of the Town in 2015, and was written as part of the core curriculum for middle school classrooms.
A Community Literacy Festival [2010 & 2013]
Richmond Tales became so popular with young people that West County READS, in partnership with grassroots organizations, decided to use it as a springboard to promote reading. The first “Richmond Tales Family Literacy Festival” was held in 2010 in the Iron Triangle district of Richmond, CA. Subsequent festivals were held at the Civic Center Plaza, co-sponsored by the City of Richmond and Kaiser Permanente, with two dozen other participating organizations. It was a day of fun and entertainment that centered on reading and learning. More than 1,200 people were estimated to have attended the 2013 festival.
A Community Play 
The East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and the Richmond Rotary Club co-produced a full-scale theatrical version of Richmond Tales, Lost Secrets of the Iron Triangle. There were six sold-out performances, and 1,300 attendees.
Take One, Leave One Bookshelves [2005-ongoing]
Wherever young people gather, West County READS seeks to ensure that books are available. West County READS has installed bright red bookshelves filled with children’s books at health centers, churches, community centers, Y.M.C.A.s, and laundromats. The “Take It, Leave It” bookshelf in one of downtown Richmond’s laundromats captured public and media attention with the image of parents reading to children while their loads of laundry finished their cycles. Most of these onsite, informal lending libraries are ongoing today.
Sup. John Gioia’s Hoodie & Book Giveaway [2015-ongoing]
Provided new books at the annual December holiday party at Verde Elementary in North Richmond in 2015 and 2016.
Throughout its history, West County READS has attended local festivals, fairs, homeless shelters, and school events. We participated in the Cinco De Mayo celebration sponsored by the 23rd Street Merchants from 2005-2012, anchoring “The Literacy Village” and distributing books and raffle prizes. Anywhere there are children who might want a book to take home, West County READS is there.