Reading program taken to youth in detention centers - KCTV5

Reading program taken to youth in detention centers in hopes it offers inspiration

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Building a Community of Readers is the Kansas City Public Library's new initiative, and the library is taking the program into the walls of the juvenile detention center.

Those who started the program are following research that shows reading and writing is a major factor for keeping at-risk youth out of trouble and literacy skills lower the chance of incarcerated teens going back to jail once they get out.

Stories to Go has been a staple outreach program within the Kansas City, MO, Public Library system. It's available to preschools and childcare centers serving toddlers through kindergarten-aged children. The program provides monthly story times that build early literacy skills and encourage the enjoyment of books.

Rob Herron III and Derrick Barnes both work with the Kansas City Public Library's outreach program. For the past two years, every other week they take the program to the juvenile detention center and point incarcerated teens toward books they'll connect with and enjoy, and help build their identities as readers and writers.

"The biggest thing that we're trying to accomplish is to get them to free their minds, get them to become more sufficient readers, which in turn will make them more knowledgeable people," Herron said.

Through the Stories to Go program, the two give the kids in the center books, talk about social issues and get them writing.

"Though they may not be avid readers at first, they eventually become excited to pick up a book and share their experiences through writing," Herron said.

The goal is to open the minds of the young people to more than the circumstances surrounding them.

"Hopefully we can be a glimmer of hope, but after they leave us, they go back into the same environment. The hope is we can give them something to think about when they are faced with the same issues that put them there because maybe they didn't have that idea or that conversation that Rob and I have in those discussions," Barnes said.

They said a book becomes a getaway for the incarcerated youths, providing an escape from the confines of the correctional facility.

"It's like a healing process for them. A lot of them are kids experiencing things that many adults can't imagine and the fact that they get to write and experience how they feel, the fact that they may read a book that they relate to where the character is going through the same thing. I think that's the power of what we do," Herron said.

Both men can relate to the kids they interact with. They grew up in Kansas City, MO's urban core in single parent homes.

"That was me, my mom worked all the time, two or three jobs at a time. My brother was like a father and he was a child himself," Barnes said.

"Someone spoke to me and told me, ‘You can do better, I see something in you,'" Herron said.

They both graduated college and came back to a city that they said seemed in the need of hope. They said working with youth is their way of paying it forward.

Barnes has written several books and Herron's a published poet.

It appears the program is making a difference. The men have run into kids who have gone through the system who are excited to tell them they are doing better and staying out of trouble because they have an outlet.

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