When Susan Neufeld’s grandmother gave her a copy of “Winnie the Pooh,” Susan, then a child, cherished it so much that she kept it all her life, eventually reading it to a group of her elementary school students.
“One of my first graders walked up to me and said, ‘Your grandma must have loved you very much to give you such a special book,’” Neufeld said. “They knew this was a book that was loved, and that they could love those books.”
A love for books - and a hope to instill that love into children - inspired Neufeld to start the Abundant Books for Children Project in 2002, and now the Stanislaus State Associate Professor is set to be honored with a statewide award for her efforts.
Neufeld’s efforts as executive director of the ABC Project have led her to help 850 children receive free books every month, all the way from birth to kindergarten. In May, the society for women educators Delta Kappa Gamma will present Neufeld with the Distinguished Public Educator Award at the state convention in southern California.
“The idea of this award that I’m getting because of my work with the program is just, to me, spotlighting the program,” Neufeld said. “I don’t do it for the accolades or the honors; I do it because it’s something I’m passionate about.”
The ABC Project is the local affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a nonprofit organization the country star began in her home county of Eastern Tennessee to increase literacy among youth. With over 1,700 sites in the United States, the ABC Project in Turlock is the first preschool literacy program to be established in the state which now plays host to 23 programs. The Project aims to supply newborn infants to 5 year olds children books and while children of that age are not typically able to read, the goal is for parents to read to their little ones.
The idea is for the parents to give the first literacy skills by turning the pages, showing the pictures and getting the child familiarize with the process,” Neufeld said.
While the ABC Project presupposes that parents are literate in the English language, Neufeld stresses that even showing children the images and speaking about them in the parents’ native tongue is adequate. Also, as children learn how to speak and read in school, they will have their own library on which to practice their skills at home.
The books in the ABC Project are chosen by a panel of early childhood specialist and readers in conjunction with the publisher, Putnam Penguin, which exclusively publishes the books with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library insignia and the child’s name. The books are shrink-wrapped and sent directly to the child’s home. Children can receive 12 books a year from the ages of infancy to five providing them 60 free books by the time they age out of the program. Twelve to 18 titles are changed out year to year, but there are certain staple titles such as the first book in the program, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper.
A lifelong educator, Neufeld spent 18 years teaching grades K-8, and now teaches future instructors at Stanislaus State. She has met Parton before, she said, and the passion the star has for early literacy fuels Neufeld’s own fire to continue providing books to Turlock’s youth, whether it’s reading to children at the library or signing them up for the program at the Turlock Certified Farmers Market.
“These are the basic years where I want to see the kids get excited,” Neufeld said. “I can give the kids the skills to read, but I need to teach them to love those books.”