History: Grassroots Organizing and National Initiatives

BookSpring was launched in 2008 through the merger of Reading is Fundamental of Austin and Capital Area Reach Out and Read.  We kept the 501(c)(3) status of the oldest organization, and thus have been in continuous fiscal and legal operation as a non-profit entity since the first books were gifted to children in the Montopolis neighborhood through a community grassroots effort in 1974.

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), founded in Washington, D.C. in 1966 by Margaret McNamara, encourages children to read by giving them the opportunity to build their own home library with books they choose themselves from a selection of new, high-quality paperbacks.

The local efforts were launched when approximately 600 elementary school children in the Montopolis neighborhood received books. Growing demand for the program led to the formation of an advisory committee in 1980, and to the creation of Reading Is Fundamental of Austin (RIF of Austin) as a nonprofit corporation in 1989. Pat Fuszek became its first Executive Director in 1989.

In 1997, recognizing the need to reach children before they entered elementary school, RIF of Austin implemented the Infant and Preschool Program. To reach the families most needing these services, RIF of Austin formed partnerships with other organizations, including Child, Inc., Communities in Schools, Even Start, Parents As Teachers, and others. An outgrowth of the Infant and Preschool Program, Parent Book Clubs were instituted in 2000.

Reach Out and Read (ROR) was developed by doctors and educators in Boston in the 1980’s.  Its mission is to make literacy promotion a standard part of pediatric primary care so that children grow up with books and a love of reading. ROR is designed to take advantage of the existing structure of pediatric primary care, in which parents of young children have regular one-to-one, developmentally-focused visits with pediatricians during the first years of their child’s life.  ROR has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Texas Medical Association and the Travis County Medical Society.

Capital Area Reach Out and Read (CAROR), was founded in Austin, Texas in 1999 by Karen Hayward, the former Senior Planner/Maternal and Child Health Coordinator for Travis County Health and Human Services.   Initially, Dr. Hayward helped establish a ROR program in the East Austin Community Health Center.

She collaborated with eight other visionaries, including Dr. Clift Price, to promote early literacy in the capital area by supporting Reach Out and Read programs and concepts in health care settings – with a focus on children who have limited access to books.  Waiting room environments were transformed into reading areas well-supplied by used books, with volunteer readers when possible, and literacy promotion guidance was added to well-child visits.

Becoming BookSpring

While serving on the Board of RIF of Austin, Mindy Gomillion learned of CAROR’s need for an executive director and became its first staff person in 2004 and served until 2008 when BookSpring was created.  Ms. Gomillion was the first executive director of BookSpring, serving from 2008 through 2010.  Dr. Emily Ball Cicchini joined as executive director in 2015, and Ms. Gomillion continued to serve on the Board of Directors as Strategy chair. Successful events of the Read-a-Thon and Storybook Heroes Awards were developed at this time.

In 2017, BookSpring partnered with the Andy Roddick Foundation to develop Summer Success, a program modeled on RIF’s Read for Success and Harvard Reads.  The program involved distributing a flood of books right before the end of the school year to address the summer slide.  In a 3-year study completed in 2020, our program successfully replicated the statistically significant improvement of reading scores against a matched comparison group.

In 2021, BookSpring partnered with the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children to launch Books Beginning at Birth, and expanded operations from Central Texas to low-income neighborhoods across the entire state. In 2022, we completed a successful capital campaign and purchased a property to become our permanent headquarters in South Austin.

Board Presidents of BookSpring have included:  Michelle Walker-Moak, Heather Burton, Susan Patterson, Judge Amy Clark Meachum, Joan Wabschall, Beth Hallmark, Chris Randazzo, Ann Gass, Suresh Pawah, Drew Schertz, Jillian Bergman, Michelle Bourianoff, Madison Jechow, and Lindsey Stuart.

BookSpring reached the milestone of 1 million books distributed to over half a million children in 2017, and continues to operate the Books for Me and ReadWell programs based on the RIF and ROR models, as well as our home grown Family Book Clubs. We continue to look for best practices in the book access field, to build from our rich history, and keep an eye towards the future.

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